Broadway Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of British painter Dan Hays. The exhibition will include a new series of works by the prize-winning artist, who has been specially commissioned by Broadway Gallery to investigate notions of the Garden City. Intrigued by Letchworth’s position as the world’s first Garden City, Hays was especially drawn to its founding utopian vision and its current political standing. This new body of work will engage both with Letchworth’s past and its present.
Hays paints primarily in oil, working from poor quality, anonymous, digital photographs gleaned from the Internet to explore the optical relationship between the digital screen and painting. For the past fifteen years he has painted, almost exclusively, the landscape of rural Colorado. He has, however, never visited the US state, a fact that has been crucial to his exploration of the relationship between the intangible and instantaneous realm of the digital image, and the tactile and time-consuming medium of painting.
By contrast, Hays visited Letchworth Garden City especially to work on his new commissions for Broadway Gallery and photographed various housing and industrial areas, meaning he used his own digital images, as well as found digital photographs, as the basis for the new works. These will therefore represent a technical and conceptual change of direction for the artist, whilst maintaining a visual consistency with Hays’ wider body of work. In all of his works he recreates the pixelated nature of screen images by way of a variety of different techniques, often pushing imagery towards thresholds of recognition.
For Hays the idea of the Garden City is paradoxical as it is futuristic and yet harks back to a rustic idyll.
Letchworth Garden City was founded in 1903 by social reformer Ebenezer Howard. Concurrent movements in British art and philosophy can be seen in a similar light to Howard’s Garden City concept, whereby radical modernism was tempered by nostalgic romanticism. Hays’ paintings aim to distil something of this paradoxical spirit; by refracting contemporary digital imagery through the resonances of historical oil painting, they connect it to the contemporary. Indeed visiting today’s Letchworth, Hays recorded a sustained feeling of contradiction, admiring its positively protectionist socio-economic framework and its strong sense of civic pride – most evident for him in the parks and gardens – yet feeling alienated by his status as a visitor to a ‘green-belted-island’ community of zoned conformity and residential seclusion.
The new works in the exhibition are inspired by and named after Letchworth landmarks. For example, the painting Curlew and Bittern (2016) depicts housing in Curlew Close and Bittern Way, photographed across fields at the edge of the town. Through a process of pictorial mirroring the impression of a lake is formed, recalling Bill Vaughan’s remark that ‘Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.’ However, Hays’ works are also intended to resonate beyond Letchworth, into a general examination of suburban living. The works display the connections the artist has made between the Garden City and his own suburban experience living and working in south London. He has said that Letchworth ‘presents an idealised version of my own London existence,’ highlighting the national influence on town planning of the Garden City movement.