Emerging artist uses babies as social commentary

Michelle Nelson

Christopher Hayden, left, sold the first painting of the exhibit to Sean Sullivan, associate publisher of Good Housekeeping magazine. Photo courtesy of Christopher Hayden.
Christopher Hayden, left, sold the first painting of the exhibit to Sean Sullivan, associate publisher of Good Housekeeping magazine. Photo courtesy of Christopher Hayden.
Some of Christopher Hayden's works are seen on display at the AFP Galleries in New York City.  Photo courtesy of Christopher Hayden.
Some of Christopher Hayden's works are seen on display at the AFP Galleries in New York City. Photo courtesy of Christopher Hayden.

There was always that question in the back of his head of whether he could make a living as an artist.

Christopher Hayden, a 28-year-old junior marketing major, sat on his couch with his dog’s head resting in his lap; his iconic piece hanging on the wall above him, with the flecks diamond dust twinkling in the sunlight.

“I really, honestly never expected to do art. I always liked it, I always did it as a hobby … it was fun,” said Hayden.

“Even after the first print I ever sold … even then, it didn’t dawn on me that I could make a career out of it.”

Hayden had just returned from New York, where he had an opening for his series “Baby with Gun” Nov. 5, in the AFP galleries of the renowned Fuller building — where seasoned, internationally acclaimed artists have showcased their work in past exhibits.

The artwork is an untitled series of graffiti, silkscreen paintings depicting an infant holding a gun.

The infant, shown in a graphic, bold color against a dark background, appears to be smiling as its chubby hand clutches the gun.

His favorite piece in this series is an infant painted black on black, flocked with diamond dust, which said he doesn’t plan to sell anytime soon.

Hayden said the paintings were conceptualized in an argument he had with a friend about nature versus nurture.

“I think one of my friends made an off comment about how having guns in the house breeds violence,” he said.

Originally from Ohio, Hayden said he grew up with guns in the house and learned how to “shoot it and clean it and load it” at a young age.

The other paintings in his baby series include a baby with a cross, and an obese baby with the markings indicating preparation for plastic surgery, which will be shown in upcoming galleries.

The paintings were created as social commentary on violence, religion and beauty.

Hayden had purposefully left the paintings untitled.

“I didn’t want any bias with it … I always ask people what they think of it, because I like hearing the stories that they come up with,” he said.

Hayden said he even signed his name on the back of the paintings, in order to avoid distractions from the art.

“I created this with a very specific intention, and that was to get people to think … it’s like a Rorschach test, people make up their own stories,” he said.

Hayden worked with silk-screener Alexander Heinrici, who had worked with Andy Warhol.

Hayden created the paintings in his apartment and sent them to Heinrici in New York for the silkscreening process. The entire process took a month to complete.

Considered an emerging artist, Hayden has already made a name for himself in St. Louis and New York, even though he has never formally studied art in school.

He sold the first painting one month after the paint had dried.

“It was happenstance of how I fell into art in the first place,” he said, “I’ve always loved to do it, but I had the mother telling me … ‘how’re you going to feed your family?’”

Hayden instead opted for a degree in business, always doing art as a side project.

“I sold a few pieces, had marginal success, but not enough to live off of and support myself,” he said.

This year, his career started to take off.

Hayden said the transition between life as a student and his life as an artist was difficult.

“This semester has been pretty difficult for me because how intense the art has been and how intense school has been,” he said. “I feel like I’m spinning a lot of plates right now.”

Hayden had his first show in St. Louis, in the Lococo Fine Art gallery in June. The most recent gallery show was in the AFP galleries in New York.

“I’m starting to see now that I can do it, but I’m so close to getting that bachelor’s that I might as well just do it,” Hayden said.

Before the exhibit opened, he sold two paintings – one to a criminal lawyer and another to Sean Sullivan, associate publisher of Good Housekeeping magazine.

During the show, he sold another painting to an art collector. Each piece sold for $6,000.

“I’ve never imagined this,” Hayden said. “These are selling for as much as my car is worth.”

Robert Lococo, an art dealer and owner of art publishing company, Lococo Fine Arts, works with well-established artists in renowned galleries. He is also a dealer for the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Lococo’s inventory includes works by Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs and Alex Katz.

Hayden’s works are also in his inventory.

Lococo had commissioned Hayden to do a series in January entitled “Made in America” – a print series of gangsters, such as Al Capone – done in a Lichtenstein-Warhol like style.

“It’s pretty amazing, quite frankly, that Chris got this show in New York,” Lococo said. “It’s difficult to find young emerging artists, and Chris is the exception with us here at Lococo.”

Lococo attended the opening and said that Hayden’s work was well-received with 100 people in attendance.
Lococo said Hayden was nervous before the opening. He reassured Hayden and told him to “just be yourself.”

“Whoever they are, they’re going to accept you,” he said, “because you are the creator, you get to play God – until you go home to visit your parents,” Lococo said, laughing.

Overall, Hayden sold 18 of the 33 original paintings, keeping eight back for himself.

His next exhibition will be at the Bohemian Gallery in Kansas City, scheduled to take place at the end of November.

The exhibition, “Sins and Sinners,” is a dual show where Hayden’s work will be displayed alongside late novelist and painter, William S. Burroughs’ paintings, “The Seven Deadly Sins.”

Hayden is also scheduled to have an exhibition in Uruguay.

Hayden said he had done the L.A. Art Walk in August, and would like to do more exhibitions in California.

During the Art Walk, Hayden displayed two paintings. Since no one knew who he was, he said it was an opportunity to linger around and hear the comments people made about his art.

“If your whole purpose of art is to convey a message, to know that message was received … that was the most important thing to me, I didn’t care if they bought it or not, I just want to hear what people thought,” he said.

Hayden does not consider the baby series his masterpiece.

“I think it’s still yet to come,” he said, “as long as I’m creating, I’ll be happy.”