Some people naturally love farm animals and everything that goes with them. Some people don’t. This critic can remember well her great uncle, a “gentleman farmer” who had a huge tract of land with equally huge cows and horses. Walking with him among the cows, especially, was no thrilling adventure for an eight-year-old. It was, in fact, downright scary. That’s why some people don’t like cows, including this critic.
However, looking at Toby Haynes’ cows in the current show at Bridgehampton’s Kathryn Markel Gallery dispels all past experiences. These animals are not only friendly-looking, but also seem like pets, with distinct personalities. There’s one image of a cow where you’d swear she was daydreaming. We want to know what “story” was being imagined by the cow: maybe it was sights of the glorious sunset, smells of the cut grass, sounds of the nearby sheep.
Speaking of sheep, there are plenty in the show, too; we must not forget that these animals represent iconic subjects for Haynes, suggesting human personalities as well. Unlike the cows, however, the sheep have textured bodies. In fact, Haynes has converted his sheepskins into a piece of abstract sculpture.
Such descriptions of Haynes’ animals demonstrate two aesthetic facets: his use of the senses (especially texture) and attention to detail. It’s easy to see that such aspects may derive from his home in Cornwall, England, “whose unique light and landscape have informed many of his paintings” and where remoteness makes us experience the setting with clarity and intensity.
This clarity and intensity extend to the works he has done in the Hamptons, where he spends several months a year. Consider “The Bird House,” a building that appears forlorn and abandoned except for the row of birds that have landed on the roof. Here are the details that give the structure character and life. Images of the beach in East Hampton are similarly constructed: A lone lifeguard stand not only resembles a piece of abstract sculpture, it suggests qualities that enhance the setting.
Haynes’ “Gerard Drive” also has those distinct and intense details, along with the suggestion of the senses. Yet such an environment has another trait that uniquely belongs to Haynes: immediacy. We experience the “moment,” the idea of really being there. That particular element is hard to capture, but it may come from the artist’s environmental position with Britain’s National Trust. He worked on conservation projects for many years in Cornwall’s coastal and woodland regions.
Haynes also has a new series at the gallery that seems very different from his signature works. Called “Current Affairs,” the paintings are figurative images of his friends involved in everyday tasks—blow drying hair, watching TV, drinking tea. But the detail is still there and so is a strong sense of the environment.