In a dark world, we can be the light. Or, at least that's the message behind Hailey Gaiser’s color-shifting, culture-shifting portraits, which depict real people and their infinite power. A self-described humanist, Gaiser began this work with a series of collages, created to remind her friends that, in her words, “they are made of stardust and there’s nothing they can’t do.”
“Even though the world is chaos and full of dark caves,” she tells The Creators Project, “we are shining beacons to light the way.” Her understanding comes in response to her own circumstances: Gaiser received scholarship funding to achieve an MFA in printmaking and video, but then couldn’t afford a studio membership. So she returned to painting, sourcing her canvases for free and opting for cheap acrylic paint.
In 2007, moving from Seattle to San Francisco, Gaiser decided it was time to leave behind the darkness she felt during her time in the Pacific Northwest: “My work was dark and my clothes were dark and my spirits were dark. I decided to step out of the darkness and into the light, and working with neon paint was how I forced my own hand in that direction.” Gaiser began adding rainbows, then architectural designs, into her paintings. And then one day at a drag show house party, she glimpsed her paintings under blacklight.
“My Michael Jackson and Elvis paintings were on the wall, vibrating and changing along with the lights. It really changed the paintings entirely. That’s what gave me the idea to incorporate lighting into the presentation of the show.”
The works in Gaiser’s recent show, I Am Because of You at The Smoking Nun in San Francisco, evoke both humanist messages and the 3D effect of her collages, but by transferring these ideas to paint, also play with psychedelic and psychological effects. “I explored my fascination with ‘genius’ and became really interested in the idea of power,” she says. “We ARE power. We are energy, and energy is power, so why do so many of us feel power-less?”
This is an issue close to her heart: growing up, Gaiser’s family moved often, and she was always at the mercy of a changing cast of teachers and authority figures. But as she moved through the world, Gaiser began to notice something similar, no matter where she wound up: the people. “Most people are just trying to do good, be good, and live well,” she says. Seeing commonalities in everyone allowed her to see the power that every person possesses equally.
That brought her to the humanist message of I Am Because of You, inspired by ubuntu—the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. Gaiser’s subjects gaze directly at the viewer, unguarded, enveloped in designs and symbols of their power. Then, the UV-reactive light that emanantes allows Gaiser to force a different viewing, reminding us that truth is in the eye of the beholder.
Click here to learn more about Hailey Gaiser's most recent show.