In Sync with… Mays Mayhew (interview)

Mays and Sergio during Miami Art Basel Week 2012
Mays and Sergio during Miami Art Basel Week 2012

This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with Chicago artist Mays Mayhew.

I have been following the art of Mays Mayhem for sometime now. I find her work visually enigmatic and it always makes me think about the relationship of the figurative images within the work and their relationship to us. It is no doubt that when I saw her announcement for her upcoming solo exhibition at Chicago’s Adventureland Gallery, I had to ask her some questions. Her solo show opens Friday, February 7th.  Also, do not miss one of her large works on paper at The Transient Figure. An exhibition I am curating at 33 Contemporary Gallery for the month of February, 2014.

2013.05 Awake


SG: Where did you go to school (college/university) and what degree did you receive?

MM: I studied at University of Wisconsin – Madison, Florence, Italy, and Rhode Island School of Design. I received a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in Studio Arts. I concentrated on drawing, but mostly painting.

SG: Do you feel art school prepared you for the art career you have now?

MM: For the last two years of my BFA I had a semi-private art studio where I spent most of my time. I was around art and artists all the time. My most influential art professors at UW were Nancy Mladenoff, Richard Lazzaro, and Dan Ramirez. All are professional working artists who exhibit in the Chicago area. They prepared me to think like an artist, to not accept the mundane, to reject pedestrian art. They instilled in me the fundamentals of what it means to be an artist. I’m not interested in doing representational art for documentation sake. I use representational styles as a means to convey an idea. • What is one thing you wish you had learned at art school? o All of my formal training taught me how to think like an artist and how to execute the craft. However, none of the schools I went to prepared me to survive on my art. The token line was “if you are good enough, you’ll make it happen”, but no one could teach or even verbalize how to make it happen. It took a while for me to learn how to get connected to the art scene and where the resources were. I wished that I sought out how to be an entrepreneur earlier on in my art career. It wasn’t until I attended RISD that I learned how to create a decent artist statement and how to create a Request for Proposal for a show. I do believe that Chicago has a lot of resources for art business education now – but that wasn’t always the case.

SG: What is your website?   It’s a great site. I think it’s really important to have easy navigation on an artist site and to make sure the work is presented well. I keep the website updated regularly which makes it easier when talking to art scene aficionados.

2013.06 Departing Kiss


SG: Tell us about your upcoming show at Adventureland Gallery.

MM: I’ve been painting in oils for the last 20 years. Last year, I started doing large scale graphite drawings on paper for my show at Art Basel in Miami. Working in drawing mediums and on paper as the finished product was completely new to me. I hated it but then it pushed me to reach deeper. The newness of the materials alone was an inspiration to work uniquely but still be able to say something worth the viewer’s time and interest. o I’ve just completed an entirely new body of work for my upcoming show at AdventureLand Gallery. I wanted the show to be chapters in a story. In the past I’ve painted a lot about interpersonal relationships. Our culture spends a lot of time and effort displaying how to fall in lust, fall in love, and start relationships. It glorifies first kisses and touches but ignores true intimacy. When I got married in 2013 I asked my guests to advise how to stay happily married. The solo show, Advice, is a visual manifestation of the written comments I received. Each image depicts the concept the well-wisher was advising. From communication to what to do when leaving the house, each image depicts a part of what true intimacy looks like.

SG: What is your biggest challenge as a contemporary artist?

MM: The biggest challenge is selling the work. The right collectors and art buyers are hard to find. Selling artwork consistently is even harder. A close second is networking and marketing my work to the right audience.

SG: Do you find social media to be a distraction or an asset for you as an artist and how do you deal with it?

MM: Social media is both a distraction and an asset. The benefits far out weight the negatives. I use Facebook primarily for my art. Social media provides me with instant knowledge of what other artists are doing with their work, gallery shows, and art-based relationships. Before social media I had to work harder to get awareness for my shows. It’s much easier with Facebook. Now people talk about the work and go to the shows but the challenge remains of connecting that awareness to art buyers. The limitation with social media is gaining new contacts you are not currently connected to yet so I believe it’s still important to get out and meet people in the flesh.

2013.03 Dinner


SG: What is your opinion about contemporary art fairs?

MM: I spend a lot of time at contemporary art fairs, museums, exhibits, etc. Every city I visit I make time to for it. I usually make it to Art Basel every year. I went to 12 fairs during Art Basel last month. I like to see what the art scene is taking interest in. Although, at the same time, the result of my reconnaissance seems to yield subjective results. It seems completely arbitrary which artists get in to the galleries that show at the fairs. -Some work was complete crap with $10,000 price tags. Poorly done, lack of craftsmanship, redundant, uninteresting, make your head hurt with stimulation but little else, vile. Other work took the curators 2 hours to explain why it was relevant. What happened to work that is just pleasant to look at? Art critics and art coaches could spend hours on this topic but at the end of the day it still seems arbitrary to me.

SG: Do you believe gallery representation today is as important as it has been in the past?

MM: Yes, I believe it’s very important to have gallery representation. Without it, (most often than not) artists don’t get seen, art doesn’t get bought, and no one talks about it to the elusive art buyer. I believe galleries cut through the clutter for art collectors. There is too much art out there – it’s overwhelming for art collectors. Art galleries cut that clutter in half to help validate art.


One sentence advice for an art student… Being a genius artist or talented craftsman will get you nowhere without a lot of hard work.


One comment

  1. Wonderful work, relevant to this time. Incredible skill and insight about the relationships we convey with our body language. I am enjoying the craftsmanship. Excellent, excellent!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s