Juliette Hayt is not only a trained oil painter, but she recently completed a Masters in Art Therapy from the School of Visual Arts. Her lifelong practice has always been engaged with the female experience, and her thick, warm-toned painting style is immediately recognizable, whether she’s painting peonies in the south of France or posting sketch updates on her Instagram story. This week, Juliette and I talked about her practice and how it changed throughout the quarantine, remaining engaged with physical and mental well-being as well as the mysteries of the unconscious.
Emily Conklin: How has your relationship to place changed with your art practice throughout the quarantine?
Juliette Hayt: During lockdown, I had the opportunity to escape New York City and live and work in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, basically out in the middle of nowhere amidst nature and farmland. My favorite setup was on a friend’s farm in Connecticut, where I was given a space in a barn to transform into a temporary studio. My work most definitely absorbed the changes in place — though I am still working within my medium, oil paint, and with similar iconographies, the compositions have this natural injection in them, and an intensely self-reflective tone that stemmed from the isolation I was experiencing during these months.
EC: In what ways could you see your work morphing or changing during those months?
JH: Many of the figures I painted focused on growth and rebirth. Just before the lockdown, I was immersed in research into female hormones, and the menstrual cycle. While my work has engaged with female health and reproductive health specifically for a while now, this scientific engagement opened so many doors for me into the complexity of hormones within the female system, and spiritually, it opened a lot of mental doors, too. Each month, we have this potential to be reborn, with the menstrual cycle and its rhythms. I feel like the paintings I made this spring, especially a triptych of “angels,” as I call them, tracks the growth of my own self as a person and an artist, recording the multiplicity of inner selves I’ve grown to know and love. It is a celebration of bodily change, the dissolution each month of the physical into something new and rich.
EC: What was your process like, creating this triptych? Are the figures self-referential?
JH: While a lot of my work springs forth from myself and my own experiences, I never refer to the female figures I paint as self-portraits. Rather, I see them as a universal portrait of the femininity I’ve experienced in my life, and the birth of many versions of myself. This specific process dealt a lot with upwards emotion and joy in a time of darkness and isolation, which was a powerful response that I did not expect to experience so unconsciously. While I doubt I’ll ever be able to answer the question of how I engineer my paintings, I do know that I am very serious about following my intuition, and letting that guide the decisions that I can then examine.
Really, I focused a lot on gratitude during the making of these. It’s so easy during this quarantine to fixate on all the things we can’t do. But when I was able to take a step back and think, I am so grateful that I can make a painting. That I am safe, that I am able to have this creative expression. That was a powerful guide for me, meditating on privilege. I feel the paint itself forced me to slow down, in its subtle ways of not really working or gelling until I really gave myself the correct time and space for thinking and healing. That’s when the work was done.
EC: How do you view yourself in the paint? What manifests there that is instructive to you and your practice?
JH: The themes of growth, rebirth and intuition really came together for me in one small moment during the lockdown that I could not help but realize the spiritual significance of. When I was riding my bike, I fell and the handlebars of the bicycle hit me in the center of the chest. That spot, especially for women, is so vulnerable and significant, and it’s also the location of the heart chakra. I felt emotions surface after that fall, and I found myself retreating to the water’s edge alone with a notebook, following my intuition that there was something lodged there that the bicycle was showing me needed to be released. I meditated on that need for release and emotional processing that day, and felt like afterwards I had given myself the space and attention my body and mental health needed. It was a truly symbolic experience that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to explain.
That is the sort of energy I felt flowing into my quarantine projects, an upheaval. There was this heightened self-awareness, and questions of what my unconscious decisions are really about. The triptych had a lot of intent behind it, starting from a sketch, which I don’t usually do, and with this vision of them being on large canvases. But they were completed as I dove deep into emotion, and emerged refreshed
EC: How do you see your art therapy education working with your creative practice?
JH: As I was just finishing up my art therapy degree this spring, the COVID-19 pandemic moved my courses all online. That pushed me even more so to be in a place where most of my time and energy was going into therapy and my clients. I loved it, and was eager to get to work, and start my career. In a way, the pandemic’s effect of halting that jump from school to career allowed me to radically refocus my art practice, and realize just how integral both these sides of myself are to my health and happiness. This was a pleasurable realization that I wasn’t previously expecting to find: I know now that I will always be feeding both sides of myself at the same time through painting and therapy, and that both are equally important practices to maintain.
One of the most important lessons that my art therapy education has taught me is that the question I’ve been trying to answer since I first picked up a paintbrush is, why is art so emotional? That “why” connects the practice of making art, and the practice of scientifically using it to heal and emotionally understand. I have always been fascinated as to why art — whether visual or performance or film — can bring out such intense feeling in all people, universally. What about it makes us cry, or conjure long forgotten memories, or even incite anger? It is an ancient question that I take with me each step of the way.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Juliette’s Work @Repose Therapy
Juliette Hayt is an Art Therapist trained from The School of Visual Arts (SVA) who utilizes a variety of art media to encourage healing from an arts based psychotherapy perspective. Juliette completed a concentration in Addictions from SVA where she studied Substance Use Disorders from an Attachment lens and the physiology of Addiction and Trauma. Juliette believes in making art accessible and that everyone has a creative voice that serves as a vessel to connect to one’s inner world. She approaches addiction from a holistic recovery perspective, by working with her clients to address multiple aspects of their lives to reduce harm. Full Bio