Artist Hailey Pinkerton draws on her education in architecture for her geometric artwork.

BY March 9, 2022
(Photo by Brian Tietz)

For as long as she can remember, 26-year-old Hailey Pinkerton has had a knack for what she calls “art-chitecture.” Being predisposed toward precision, repeating motifs and intricate construction, she began drawing mandala-like patterns and arranging building blocks by color, unprompted, when she was 3 years old. “I was always the daughter in trouble for painting geometric compositions on the back of my closet door or for painting my room walls with sparkly nail polish designs,” she says. Her Texan grandmother, Myrla, nurtured her creative spirit. Every few years, as a birthday present, Grandma would paint the kids’ bedrooms—and this was no run-of-the-mill touchup, Pinkerton recalls: “One year, my grandmother painted the most realistic, beautiful clouds on a bright blue sky on my bedroom ceiling. To this day, it is one of the most beautiful paintings I had ever seen—and, it was all for my eyes only.”

Now, working as an architecture consultant for one of Naples’ top firms, Herscoe Hajjar Architects, Pinkerton’s hypnotic abstract artwork ranges from paintings covered in painstakingly created geometric patterns to topographical wall-mounted pieces made from undulating rows of curled paper. One recent commission for Naples’ highly anticipated Del Mar restaurant spans nearly floor to ceiling with white quilled creations resembling rosebuds.

The Columbus, Ohio, native graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. “It was as intuitive for me to go into architecture as it was to assemble those first mandalas and blocks as a toddler,” she says. She credits her continued fascination with art and design to summers spent with her grandparents on the Texas Gulf, doing craft projects and touring seaside mansions. “I never had to second guess my intuition about architecture,” she says.

Though her architecture courses demanded most of her energy, Pinkerton found the time to study  art. A color theory class during her sophomore year affirmed her thinking that the relationships she instinctively noticed between colors, particularly when layered or arranged next to each other, were formally documented and utilized in the worlds of art and design.

During her junior year, Pinkerton faced a particularly challenging architecture assignment that serendipitously led to her current series of paper works. Students were instructed to craft a three-dimensional object simply by creasing a square sheet of paper. “The in-class experiment was to question the way we think about space, challenging us to start thinking outside the box—or square, in this case,” she explains. After what she describes as a few bland attempts, she laid a pencil flat onto the paper, with its tip in the center. By twisting the paper around the pencil as she moved it, she realized she could create a curl in one of the square’s quadrants. She repeated this movement in the opposite corner, creating a cone of curling edges, which she then pinched in the center to hold, “allowing the paper folds to relax but never come undone.” She had created her first “paper unit.” Those units, resembling an abstracted flower, would become a building block in her current series of wall-mounted paper sculptures.

To assemble her artworks, she stands the paper units upright, compressed against dozens—if not hundreds—of others, creating futuristic-looking fields with varying sizes and colors. The units are then individually handstitched onto canvases, which often span a few feet in diameter. For all the crispness of the paper, which has to be rigid, like cardstock, the exposed edges create a curving lattice of fluid lines. In essence, the process abides by the same principles she follows when painting: continuous iteration and scale experimentation.

Though Pinkerton has always painted, she began creating more serious works using oil and acrylic after college. Her abstractions depict linear rows of small, compact shapes painted with unflinchingly bold and saturated colors and unerring precision, so the rows—which undulate and swell in their width, height, and positioning—almost read like optical illusions. Relying on the use of negative space—the empty area surrounding an object (in Pinkerton’s case, the exposed canvas between the shapes in her paintings)—she guides the viewer’s eye through the painting as if moving through miniature hallways seen from above. “I enjoy precalculating what I want the negative space to imply and what the implications will do for the negative space,” she explains. This is no coincidence: “Negative space is probably the largest concept out of these that I reference daily in my architecture practice,” she says

While neither her paper works nor her paintings resemble architectural blueprints, the spatial relationships reflected in them—the paper units’ varying heights and depths, and the hypercalculated snippets of bare canvas in her paintings—are like those seen in the diagrams of building interiors. Her paintings’ exactitude recalls the analog origins of architectural draftsmanship, where students used protractors and rulers to create the illusion of 3D spaces. The edges and angles in her paintings are so sharp that they almost look kinetic—a feat, considering all of her paintings, though sketched and stenciled, are painted freehand. “Each polygon of color is individually painted and treated as a structural unit in relation to their monotonous and repetitious whole,” she says. “This is seen in architecture, as well. A building is not one whole, but a sum of its units—columns, beams, windows, doors—copied and pasted to create a composition.”

To Pinkerton, art and architecture are two sides of the same coin. She says, “Even though I attribute many of my artwork concepts to my architecture study, there is no denying that the obsession with color and creativity runs through my blood.”