Environmental artist and queen of the murals Maya Hayuk on her super vibrant Billabong collaboration, outer space and what kind of magic she believes in.
Interview by Britta Burger
What was it like working with Billabong? Did you work closely with the designers and their patterns or did you concentrate more on the print?
It was a fantastic experience all around. I focused more on the textile design itself, but did have some say about how my art worked with the clothing. Symmetry lends itself so naturally to the human form. The V or chevron shape is very flattering, feminine and powerful.
What was your inspiration for your prints for Billabong?
The colours of a coral reef, outer space, positive energy, power-shapes and repeating geometry; what I would like to wear that doesn’t exist in the world. I listen to a lot of music while I work, there are a lot of repeating patterns in my art and in music. I also found it exciting to help create an object that empowers the person holding or carrying it. I do believe in this kind of magic.
You do a lot of collaborations, even ‘collaborations with the environment’, what’s the best thing about working together with someone/something else?
Collaborations can free you up and push you forward in ways that working alone might not do. You are forced to become a better listener and think more about the big picture than what your personal ego may drive you to do. Collaborations can be tricky and challenging, but can also yield such interesting and unusual results that you could never, ever have come up with on your own.
You’re really well known for your murals, your public art that can revitalize a whole area, do you think art on clothes can be described as ‘public art’ too?
There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between public art and fashion – of course. Fashion is a very important form of personal identity and can “revitalise” the soul, if you will. Murals can revitalise a neighbourhood and the psyche of a community. Both are very powerful, wonderful and essential forms of expression. I wouldn’t necessarily swap the two words out for each other, though. You can’t really say “look at that person wearing public art” any more than you can say “look at the fashion on that wall” and there’s no reason to.
What’s it like working on projects with musicians? You worked with the Beastie Boys, M.I.A and Animal Collective among others. Is it a multisensory experience, do you translate sound into shapes and colours, or are you influenced by their lyrics or even their look?
I am super inspired by the rhythms and patterns music can create in my mind’s eye, they do translate directly to what I make visually and I respond so deeply to music. I really don’t hear lyrics, they sound like another instrument to me. I am certainly inspired by music videos, if that’s what you mean by ‘look’, but I can’t say I am influenced by the fashion of a musician, necessarily.
In the case of the Beastie Boys, I photographed them for a wonderful Brazilian magazine called Trip, which was a huge honour. Animal Collective let me use one of their songs for a painted video installation I made in a museum in the Netherlands. I was commissioned by Jess Holzworth, a video director, to create a mural in response to a song by Rye Rye, which featured M.I.A. The song, called “Sunshine”, of course inspired the painting I made and it was used as the backdrop for their video.
I’ve created massive, modular and mobile soft quilted stage sets for TV On The Radio and The Akron Family. The Flaming Lips commissioned me to paint a mural on one of their buildings in Oklahoma City. And I have created album covers, tour posters and video sets for Dan Friel, Oakley Hall, Home, Devendra Banhardt, Seun Kuti, Prefuse 73 amongst so many others.
We heard you’re influenced by Ukrainian handicrafts, what’s the story behind that?
My parents were refugees of World War II as children. When their families escaped from Ukraine, they couldn’t carry much, but their mothers brought with them the vast knowledge that their grandmothers and great-grandmothers passed down to them for centuries. As a small child, my grandmothers would teach me crafts like embroidery, batik egg dying and reciting poetry. This was probably the first and most impactful influence in my life. I learned not only to have a very steady hand and determination, but they taught me about the richness of the meaning of all of these geometric symbols. Without realizing it, they were introducing me to colour theory and design, which is a huge part of my process. They also taught me that making art or a craft is a gift.