The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Jesse Hay’s art displayed at The 1106 Gallery

February featured artist discusses his art
Photo by Ambrosia Wojahn
Jesse Hay stands beside his favorite painting on display at The 1106.

Artist Jesse Hay’s fine art exhibition took place at The 1106, formerly Artisan Forge Studios, on Saturday, Feb. 10. Hay has 55 pieces on display through February at the studio.

Hay’s complex, abstract paintings drew a number of people to the local gallery on Saturday night. His work features a variety of soft tones, unique designs and textures. The pieces were all made in the past year and a half and displayed in frames that Hay crafted himself. 

An Eau Claire native, Hay said he grew up in the Chippewa Valley and returned to the area March 2023. He and his fiance, silversmith India Frock, became residents at The 1106 last month. The two share a workspace at the studio.

Hay said his passion for painting is due in part to his upbringing.

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“My mom’s an artist, so it was always encouraged growing up. I also took a few art classes in college,” Hay said. “In the beginning, it was just a hobby.”

Hay uses a variety of mediums to bring his paintings to life. He works with different kinds of paint and experiments with materials such as sealant, soil and even paper towels to add new layers to the pieces. Hay said he draws a great deal of inspiration from colors.

“I’m actually colorblind, which means that all of these paintings probably look different to me than they do to others,” Hay said. “Because painting is such a meditative process for me, I kind of blackout as I’m making things — I don’t have full concepts in mind when I start.”

Hay compared his creative process to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.

“I’ll have a very small idea, and then once I get that down it just progresses,” Hay said. “You’ll find yourself with a finished piece and no real recollection of how you got there they take on a life of their own.”

Hay said his journey to becoming a painter was preluded by his work as a musician. After attending college in Minnesota and spending a semester at UW-Eau Claire, Hay left the Midwest in 2009 to pursue a career in music.

“I spent years living all over the country as a working musician,” Hay said. “I put out a couple of albums and spent time living and performing in places like Portland, New York, and Seattle.”

Hay said it was during the COVID-19 pandemic when he first became serious about painting.

“When COVID hit, I was living in Seattle, and there was nowhere open to play. I was left with a lot of extra time and I just started painting,” Hay said. “The paintings began to pile up, and with encouragement from friends and family I started trying to sell them.” 

Hay said he has always viewed painting as a meditative experience and didn’t anticipate building his work into a career. The artist still plays as a musician and plans to release his third album this spring.

“Despite my talent in music, it always felt like an uphill battle for me in that my technical ability didn’t quite match what was in my head,” Hay said. “With this, it’s just a lot more effortless. Painting is more personal; it places less focus on the performance aspect.”

Hay said he’s noticed that people are more responsive to the art he puts out for himself and that he uses his music and visual art as an emotional outlet.

“It seems that the less I care about people’s reactions, the more they appreciate it,” Hay said. “I’m not the best at speaking my emotions, so music and art act as my meditation and release.”

Hay pointed out that he chooses not to name any of his pieces.

“I want people to interpret them for themselves, and not to go in with any preconceived notions,” Hay said.

Hay currently has an additional collection displayed at the Oxbow Hotel, as well as several single pieces in locations around town. Additionally, Hay has a number of works for sale online.

Hay and Frock plan to stay in Eau Claire for at least several years. 

“We’ve got two girls in school here, and we really like the community,” Hay said. “We’re very excited for all that’s in store.”

Wojahn can be reached at [email protected].

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