Valley Low: Jen Wink Hays

January 15 – April 30, 2022


Valley Low features a selection of paintings and wall-oriented sculptures by Jen Wink Hays who is based in Philadelphia, PA. Hays’ paintings are populated by whimsical shapes painted in a hard-edged fashion. Bulging forms that seemingly reference cartoon-like anatomy, chunky bent cylinders and other shapes, evoke forms from both the built and natural world and share space on these canvases. They unite in a sort of organic growth that seemingly emanates from the bottom of the compositions. Hays comments that “the works in Valley Low are undeniably upbeat and sunny in appearance yet—as the title suggests—something more psychologically complex and nuanced is at play.” While the artist’s paintings employ simple, block-like and “almost childlike shapes”, her process encompasses multiple steps, both additive and subtractive. Art critic and writer Nico Kos Earle comments that Hays’ paintings are built “through a series of increasingly controlled layers” and that the artist’s “zoom in, zoom out” approach is also “procedurally connected to our constant toggle between the organic and the synthetic.”

The exhibition demonstrates the artist’s keen ability to work in all formats and sizes, from works as small as 18 x 24 inches to mammoth paintings that span ten feet. A focal point of the exhibition is the large-scale painting, Blowback. The eccentric, stacked shapes appear to originate from the left corner and are created in a most cheerful palette that includes vivid lime green, mustardy yellow, coral, and chromatic grays. In some instances colors shift within the enigmatic forms—the bottom of some flesh-toned forms appear to be dipped in vivid flamingo-pink. Hays confidently integrates flamboyant and under-stated colors in her paintings, reflecting her desire “to negotiate between gaudy and tasteful in my work”. Energy and movement are also evident in Blowback. The prominent green element that hugs the right side of the “shape pile” seems to cast off an array of eccentric shapes that range from kite-like diamonds and circles to smaller random shards. These forms seem to have been expelled from the larger mass and float on the blue-gray expanse.

As in Hays’ paintings, her sculptural works are equally lighthearted. It is as if she plucked a few singular shapes from the canvases and gave them life in three dimension. The quirky sculptures Bobber 1 & 2 are fashioned from accessible, arguably “low art” materials such as papier mâché and have a playful resonance. In this wall installation Bobber 1, a two-toned bumpy shape that brings to mind microscopic cellular material, awkwardly dangles from twisted natural rope, while it’s weighty green and charcoal gray companion, Bobber 2, hangs alongside.


floral and green shapes on dark green background       Various colors and shapes layered on a light blue background

Left: JEN WINK HAYS (American, born 1972). Garden State, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Right: JEN WINK HAYS (American, born 1972). Forecaster’s Dilemma, 2020. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.