I meet Jeanette Hayes for happy hour drinks on a Wednesday at the Bowery Hotel. Jeanette chose the bar based on the logic that “The Bowery is a good backdrop for us,” like aesthetically speaking, and also that it’s midway between our apartments. The Bowery’s the kind of place where if you’re not at least a bit famous, the waiting staff pretend you don’t exist, and you literally have to grovel and beg them to serve you, only for them look at you like you’re a stain on their faux 1920s satin armchairs. But it’s worth it for the chance to drink a $22 cocktail next to Jared Leto and his make-up artist, or whatever.
“Getting drunk is just such hard work. Should we get mocktails? Mocktails are cute.”
Jeanette’s wearing jeans and a crop-top, like she always does, with her characteristic Donatella-blonde hair and Betty Boop lips, slathered in lipgloss (“Lipgloss is back”). She walked here from her new Lower East Side apartment-slash-studio. “I don’t drink very much,” she says. “Getting drunk is just such hard work. Should we get mocktails? Mocktails are cute.”
Last year, at a party at Julian Schnabel’s house at which Vito Schnabel stood on a table to give a drunken speech about a time he got an STD, Jeanette told me that her party trick was to always be holding a glass of champagne but not to drink it, so that you can party all night without everyone harassing you for being sober, and then get up to work early the next morning. Young artists these days are so responsible. But in the spirit of YOLO we order white russians, after Jeanette randomly mentions that it was the first alcoholic drink she ever tried.
“On the Internet no one has to know you’re really a human”
As a classic millennial, Jeanette does everything. She works in painting, video and collage, she’s made gifs for Proenza Schouler, she’s photoshopped her head onto the body of a machine-gun-wielding Laotian child on the lap of Marina Abramovic; she’s modelled for Opening Ceremony and Iceberg, she made an installation for Alexander Wang, and she tweets like every hour, often profoundly shallow-yet-deep things like: “On the Internet no one has to know you’re really a human” and “The sun looked rly great on all of your instagrams so I looked out the window.”
Jeanette, now 26, grew up in Chicago with Catholic parents, which makes sense of her proclivity for religious iconography and images that aspire toward the transcendent. “A lot of what I think about in art is beauty, and big corny ideas like the sublime, pure thought – ideas that are bigger than the material. I always think about Stendhal syndrome. I don’t think it’s realistic today, no matter how beautiful something is, because people are so saturated with imagery. We’re spoiled for beauty. But I think film still has the power to bring someone to their knees – it’s a combination of imagery, sound, movement and composition. I think film might be the highest form of art.”
“No matter how beautiful something is, because people are so saturated with imagery – we’re spoiled for beauty”
Jeanette’s work is a mash-up of high and low culture. It’s trashy-profound. It’s serious yet lolz. For instance, her work “Come Si Dice Webcam Girls,” a photorealistic oil painting of the Virgin Mary as the lock-screen wallpaper of an iPhone, from her Botticelli Photobooth series. Or, more recently, her paintings of Sailor Moon characters painted over top of Willem de Kooning’s Woman paintings, from her De Mooning series. Given this love for a marriage of the grand with the basic, her fandom of diffusion lines makes perfect sense. Together, we reminice about the garish brilliance of 90s Versus Versace. “I have a green vintage Versace suit that Aurel [Schmidt] gave me that I wear as much as Marge Simpson wore her ‘Chanel’ suit,” Jeanette says, while showing me picture of Marge’s pink power suit on her phone.
“I don’t keep a traditional sketchbook,” she says in between sips of spiked milk. “I think of the internet as my sketchbook.” AKA, her various social media platforms are where she records her idea-vomit, and the culmination of that process eventually ends up on a canvas. “Not to sound corny, but I think if you live an artistic life, then everything you do can be a part of your artistic practice; who you are can be part of your work,” she says. “But I don’t think everything needs to be ‘framed,’ so to speak. Everything can be part of a sketchbook, but it doesn’t need to be emphasized.”
“So many great artists spent so much time painting themselves, which is way more obsessive. The self-portrait is the ultimate selfie.”
These ideas about the increasingly blurred line between art and life have lead to Jeanette to frequently being asked the annoying question: are selfies art? She rolls her eyes. “So many great artists spent so much time painting themselves, which is way more obsessive. The self-portrait is the ultimate selfie.”
Jeanette is often pigeonholed as someone whose work stems from or deals with the internet. (To be fair, one of her greatest one-liners was: “When you put something on the internet, it’s mine.”) But that’s not 100% of the story. Contrary to popular belief, not everything ever created by a young person is about the internet. “A lot of my paintings have nothing to do with the internet, like the little Pokemon paintings I’ve been making, or the De Moonings, which were about a very specific comparison. But people are always like, ‘Tumblr… they’re about Tumblr, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh no… art history.’”
“A couple years ago I thought [the internet] was interesting because it was a frontier of possibility, but now it’s shifted to the point where it’s like, OK, we know, we get it. The internet is the world, the world is the internet—it’s a given, it’s always incorporated. It’s like acknowledging air.”
Next month, Jeanette’s painting “Pope Keyboard” (2013) will be in the group show Powerful Babies: Keith Haring’s Impact on Artists Today at the Spritmuseum in Stockholm. She’s also the artist behind the Fall 2015 Purple magazine artist’s book. At 26, Hayes is the youngest artist to have the honor, with previous artists including Richard Prince, Juergen Teller and George Condo. Hayes’s next solo show will be in April of 2016, at Caster Gallery.