Stephen L. Hayes, Jr. makes art—woodcuts, sculptures, installations small and large—from found materials that draw on social and economic themes ingrained in the history of America and African-Americans. His approach is simple: “If I can’t find it, I’ll make it. If I can’t make it, I’ll find it.”
Hayes grew up in Durham with his older brother, Spence, and his mother, Lender, who were pivotal in shaping and sparking his creative approach. When Hayes was in the first grade, he broke a remote-control car. His brother took it apart and attached the motor to a battery, bringing it back to life. Amazed, Hayes began breaking all kinds of things to see how they worked and what he could create with the pieces. By second grade, his mother had given him a real workbench; she and Hayes’ brother would also bring home abandoned equipment for tinkering. By high school, he learned to crochet.
He went to North Carolina Central University, aiming to transfer to North Carolina State University to study mechanical engineer. Instead, through a friend, he discovered graphic design. His new major led to a ceramics course, where his enthusiasm and skill led to being allowed as much time as he wanted on the wheel. He threw enough pots to develop a strong portfolio, leading to a residency at the acclaimed New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. Hayes earned an M.F.A. in sculpture at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. His thesis exhibition, "Cash Crop," has been traveling and exhibiting for nearly a decade.
Frequently in his work, Hayes uses three symbols: a pawn, a corn, and a horse to explore America’s use (or misuse) of black bodies, black minds, and black labor. Artists, he believes, are as much translators as they are creators.