Arts and Entertainment

Late modernist Max Hayslette bares soul on Bainbridge

Artist Max Hayslette shares a laugh with U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee at his public art opening at Roby King Galleries on Bainbridge Island last week. The show runs there through the month of June. For more information, visit - Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo
Artist Max Hayslette shares a laugh with U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee at his public art opening at Roby King Galleries on Bainbridge Island last week. The show runs there through the month of June. For more information, visit
— image credit: Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo

In only a matter of minutes, Max Hayslette can be many different people: A small-town, self-termed “hillbilly” with roots in company-owned Rupert, West Virginia; a martini man, who orders his Bombay Sapphire “with a twist” as if it were a line penned by Ian Fleming; and a painter who, as he puts it, was born at the wrong time, an avant-gardist in a landscaped world who would rather sip his Bombay in a smoky Paris lounge on the cusp of the 1920s, talking design with Walter Gropius, than be almost anywhere else.

Hayslette, of Kingston, recently opened his first Northwest art exhibit in five years. His colorful, late modernist mixed media oil paintings can be seen at the Roby King Galleries, 176 Winslow Way, Bainbirdge Island, through the month of June.

Wearing a smooth black blazer, Hayslette tells stories at a North Kitsap restaurant, punctuating grand notions with a toast. He wears thick, dark-rimmed, circular glasses that last from the tops of his eyebrows to the tips of his cheekbones, and tells of his artistic upbringing, when he was reborn a modernist.

He learned the appreciation from artists Alexander Archipenko and Egon Weiner, among others, who were the last of Gropius’ Bauhaus movement, a romance of rationale and function that heralded the glory of simplified geometric forms. Many of the movement’s driving personalities made their home in Chicago in the early 1950s, when a young Hayslette had just arrived there to study art.

“It is just ingrained in me. I was born 60 years too late. I should have been one of them,” he said, then once again, more quietly, “I should have been.”

Later, he sees the humor in it: “I’d like to be 150 years old right now.”

Hayslette, born in 1930, graduated from Chicago’s Academy of Art in 1951. He enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago until he ran out of money, and went to work for Kenneth Olson, one of Chicago’s leading designers at the time. Later, he moved to the Northwest and worked as design coordinator for the Alaska Pavilion at the 1962 World’s Fair. He did work for Boeing, and opened his own industrial design firm, Olympus Graphics, on Bainbridge, before returning to fine art in the 1970s.

For years his print works have sold through Grand Image in shops such as Target and Walmart. Those works are more traditional — traditional prints corner 75 percent of the print market — but the lovely, Euro-inspired pastorals aren’t “where my soul is,” he said.

His soul resides firmly in 1925, in which modernist creation (think more experimental, abstract and self-conscious art à la Picasso) exploded onto the world’s canvas. It is this influence Hayslette followed for his pieces, all done in the last three years, which now show at Roby King. It is the first abstract show of its kind for the gallery, said co-owner and co-director Andrea Roby-King.

Hayslette said the flow of creating a painting is how one might imagine a concerto is written, with just a few notes, then a musical conversation, and suddenly a polyphony of harmonies.

His first show, when he was teenager, hung in the windows of a small West Virginia furniture store. His father worked in the coal mines in Rupert and his mother was a housekeeper. One day, the town physician bought every one of the paintings in the store windows, nearly 50 in all.

Since, he has been invited by the Italian government to show at the Biennale Internazionale Dell’ Arte’ Contemporanea in Florence, and he has pieces in hundreds of private, corporate and public collections across the country, including The Rockefeller Foundation, Standford University and The Smithsonian. Learn more at WU

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