Hayley Welsh: Of Monsters and Zen

For those who gravitate toward the right-brained domain, the frenzied way of today’s world can weigh quite heavily upon our minds and allegorical shoulders. Things are pretty wild out there! We seem to be entrenched in a “mean girls/boys” epoch, as well. Behaving badly toward our fellow humans – sometimes reprehensibly – happens far too regularly these days. Faced with this omnipresent bummersville vibe, some of us may be inclined to lean on coping mechanisms that aren’t always so healthy. May I suggest a more holistic, mood-lifting prescription? For the next few minutes, allow yourself to get lost in Hayley Welsh’s alterni-verse where floofy, poufy little doe-eyed monsters fly, cycle, float and swing their worldly cares away.

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If, upon viewing Welsh’s mixed media artworks, your endorphin levels have still failed to elevate, then I strongly advise you to rush to the nearest medical facility. All kidding aside, this painting made you smile, didn’t it?

Congratulations! Your feel-good neurotransmitters are doing a happy dance right now!

What about this sculpture?

Serotonin to the rescue!!! And this little beauty?

Now you’ve got some dopamine pumping through your system!! Kinda feels exhilarating, doesn’t it?

Those of us who regularly engage in internet activities or are habitually glued to our cell phones are well aware of the very real monsters lurking in modern society’s shadows. What a pleasure it is, then, to be swept away to the kooky little corner of Hayley Welsh’s brain where gentle-spirited creatures almost seem to convey the notion that, somehow, everything’s going to work out alright. And boy oh boy, isn’t that the kind of reassurance that we all need right now?

As if it isn’t already abundantly obvious, the UK-born, Land Down Under transplant is having a blast doing this art thing. Her modus operandi is “bringing adults (back) to a place of fun”. Every shade and nuance of the playfully creative spectrum is tackled in her body of work, from children’s book writing/illustration and canvas-based paintings to larger-than-life public art installations, sculpture, augmented analogue photos and a whole array of mixed-media pieces incorporating repurposed materials.

Welsh’s formal illustration education at Blackpool College of Arts certainly helped to cultivate her now signature aesthetic, however the creative muse has long coursed through her veins. Despite being the first among her bloodline to pursue art as a full-time career, she comes from ten generations of creative-minded relatives. Grandad George, in particular, was Welsh’s steadfast motivational cheerleader and now dear-to-her-heart inner spark. He urged her to listen to her inner voice, a message that is delicately spun into her works to this very day.

The imaginary life forms that Hayley Welsh depicts serve as a hat-tip to Jim Henson’s wondrous, muppety-puppety universe. As a child, being exposed to his highly expressive, Crayola colored motley crew made her – like so many of us! — feel safe and happy. This is precisely the type of artistic comfort food that she now strives to serve heaping portions of, perched high atop a gilded platter of relatability. With each piece that she works on, she honors the place between her head and her heart where the products of her imagination cross over into reality.

Her coy and at times noticeably fearful monsters are a far cry from conventional counterparts that are notorious for disrupting the deep slumber of innocents or causing adults to lay wide awake in bed during the unholy hours of the morning. Some of these eccentrically executed beings are leviathan-like, while others are no bigger than an adult house cat. In both cases, they seem to possess myriad physical traits that make you want to tuck them — all snuggly and safe — into your lap so they can be lavished with the love and protection that they seem to be so desperately in need of.

This curious cast of characters, who Welsh suggests were once lost, now find themselves on a quest to find their home sweet home. They share a very specific physical attribute – impossibly wide set, droopy, Basset Hound-like peepers. In a way, their moon-eyed countenance makes them appear somewhat world-weary and deserving of a good old bear hug that lingers for days. The majority of them also have piece-y, flowing manes that beg to be stroked or adoringly brushed. Those two commonalities make them instantly endearing to the beholder, triggering a desire to shield them from anything that may be chipping away at their tender little spirits.

Some of Welsh’s darling critters are imbued with fanciful elements such as assorted sized horns. A few are gently curved, while others stand at antler-like attention. Fully leafed saplings spring forth from many of their heads. Occasionally, the eensie weensiest suggestion of a hamster-like nose and mouth punctuates a monster’s face. Other critters are typically devoid of those facial encumbrances and yet those who gaze upon them still feel as warm and fuzzy as ever. Then there are the floppy bunny rabbit-esque ears. Oversized teddy bear paws. Tails of ever-varying lengths (some bordering on full-throttle show pony territory). Even random Seussian nuances like curled appendage wisps, to boot. What a feast of fabulous frivolity!

The left-of-center orbit that Hayley Welsh’s relatable beasties hitch a ride upon honors the Muppet-derived nostalgia that is near and dear to her heart. It is the pursuit of artistic authenticity, however, that is also quite central to her creative vision. Each of her spirited pieces – including cotton candy tinted scenes born out of her collaborative efforts with fellow artistic soul mate Andy Faraday — come “from emotionally personal places” and typically “refer to wider topics of humanity and the future of our society and planet as a whole”.

Welsh’s monster-like subjects serve as a metaphor for how challenging it can be to navigate the adult world. Being true to ourselves and our personal needs far too often gets lost in the shuffle. What makes the depiction of her critters’ ongoing quest for home far more hopeful? Each of their exploits takes flight due to the ever-buoyant nature of the inner child who side steps perceived adult impossibilities. Through the imagine-actions of Welsh’s charming critters, we get the sense that ardently protecting the flame of belief intrinsically stokes the spirit, which in turn leads to the promise of much happier days ahead.


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