Hayley Gaberlavage - Artist and Portrait Painter

By Tippi Clark

Hayley Gaberlavage - Artist and Portrait Painter

“Wearing an apron means it’s ‘go time’ and it’s my uniform. Wearing an apron is also a mental thing, because it’s time, no excuses. I’m ready to work.” Says Hayley Gaberlavage.

Interview and Story by, Mary Ladd 

Hayley, 38 is an artist and portrait painter trained at the Savannah College of Art and Design and the University of Alabama. She is a native of Alabama and in 2014 Complex Magazine named her as one of twenty New Orleans Artists You Should Know. Hayley spent the last six years developing her quirky painting skills in NOLA, where she met her husband Ben Massey. He is an architect and accomplished wood worker, and early this summer the talented duo began an exciting new chapter in Savannah, Georgia. 

As a storyteller, Hayley finds inspiration from the vibrant hues and colors of the beach, which often show up in bold strokes in her work. She also favors the look and details from vintage Kodachrome photographs from the 1950s and 60s sourced from antique stores.  Her work is an able expression of the historical combined with modern details and color accents in the form of look-at-that eyewear, lush floral headpieces, or bright red lipstick. The vintage photos form the basis of many of Hayley’s portraits. Her signature palate includes shades of sea foam green, vibrant shades of blue and turquoise, as well as subdued tones on an unfinished background. They embrace the old timely past while celebrating community, people and characters of all ages.

How did you become the artist that you are today?

I’m just drawn to observing people.

Accessories like glasses, flowers, masks and pipes are mainstays of your portraits. Color as well. What advice can you give to people in choosing these for daily life? How do accessories work as devices for expression?

Go with your gut, and figure out what do you need to pull out of yourself. Plus, you should look for balance.

My home décor is minimal and serene. In New Orleans when you’re walking around, it’s bright and vibrant and loud. When I’m upstairs hanging with my husband, the set up is very modern, with lots of blacks and whites and greens. When I get back into the studio, I go crazy with color. For a lot of artists, their art translates into their everyday décor. I go for some kind of balance with work and life away from work because I’m surrounded by my art.

What does wearing an apron mean to you?

Wearing an apron means it’s ‘go time’ and it’s my uniform. Wearing an apron is also a mental thing, because it’s time, no excuses. I’m ready

I have my really dorky Crocs that I would never wear out in public, but they’re my work shoes and wearing them is another sign that it’s time to work.

Holt McCall designed these aprons specific to your style of painting. How did they get to that design and what is your favorite detail?

The Artist's Half Apron is designed to be like a mini skirt with a tennis skirt/ sporty vibe. And, the Artist's Bib Apron offers a comfy yet stylish crisscross “slip over your head” mini dress option. These thoughtful designs make me feel like I’m wearing a uniform or a cute outfit.

The lightweight, textured fabric allows me to easily wipe paint off my fingers. I can even leave the apron on when I’m running a quick work related errand or two.

My favorite detail is definitely the kangaroo pouch pockets. I don’t need a lot of bulky pockets when I’m painting. These cute, hand pouch pockets lie flat and have enough room for my cell phone, along with a paintbrush or two.

What work are you the most proud of?

My Southern Vice show was based on Southern characters with a lot of people eating, drinking and smoking. It is a visual representation of the New Orleans influence and how people here love to indulge on a lot of food and drink. It was a love story to New Orleans and my last big body of work.

 What’s your dream work space for painting?

I’d want a studio that’s on the beach because I’m such a beach bum. The dream space would be full of natural light. My life goal is to have a modern house and studio on the beach. I’m excited to move to Savannah, which is a place that I can go to the beach for a day trip. That chills me out a little bit.

Why do you think there seems to be a resurgence of local makers in America?

With the Internet & technology and being able to put your artwork out there, it’s easier. You can show your work through Etsy and there are all these great websites that let you do your dream and craft. That in turn lets more independent artists show instead of having to rely on corporations. It means that people can support themselves.