There is no mistaking the work of Bryan Haynes for that of any other artist. His style, shaped by 20 years as a professional illustrator, presents skillful renderings of the human figure, thoughtful use of perspective, and a full color palette.
But what makes his work even more distinct is his subject matter - the people, land, and history of Missouri river country.
“I’ve got my medium. I’ve got my vocabulary in paint. Twenty years ago I left behind how to paint something. Now it’s about what to say. There are so many stories to tell about this region. It’s limitless. I have more ideas in my sketchbook that I could ever get to.”
The figures in Hayne’s paintings - farmers, pioneers, workers, Native Americans - are heroic in the ways we hope our ancestors might have been. And their actions are woven into the patterns of the land itself. Because the rivers and bluffs, fields and hills are major characters in his paintings, in constant interaction with the people who live among them. You can feel the muscle, bone and breath of the land in Bryan Haynes’ vision of our region.
With acrylic paint and canvas he tells stories that reconstruct the history of America’s frontier in ways that approach mythology. A group of running Indians is accompanied by a cloud of parakeets (once prevalent in the Missouri River region). His farmers and pioneers wield tools with vision and purpose. A young woman strides across the plains like a goddess. If these painting don’t depict daily life as it truly was, it captures the way it should have been. The way we would like best to remember it. They present American archetypes that touch us.
“I like to start with gestures that are strong and heroic, because those people were strong. Maybe I’m creating theatre on the canvas - a tableau. I want the beholder to look at my painting and not see realism, but join me in this land that I have created.”
This past year Bryan and his wife Petra moved from their home in the woods outside Labadie to Washington, Missouri, where he established a galley and studio in a historic building downtown. For the first time in years he has daily contact with the people who appreciate his work.
“I’ve noticed that working in the studio when the public has access, I’ve had to start explaining what I’m doing, and I’ve never had to do that. And it’s been an interesting exercise, because to verbalize intuition is hard for some artists, like me, to do. In the past it was always just a matter of - ‘look at the painting, there it is.’”
Borrowing from his experience as a commercial artist, Haynes approaches each piece systematically and with a clear idea of where he’s going with it. Typically a painting begins with a story, which he might have read, heard from an elderly neighbor or received as a commission.
The first step is to research that story in depth so that whatever he paints is historically accurate. Then he creates a series of small sketches depicting details, first in black and white and then in color. The trick, he says, is to keep the dynamism of those small sketches alive and working together as he integrates them on the canvas.
Recently a collection of those sketches were presented in exhibition at OA Gallery in Kirkwood.
“I think art has to have craftsmanship. That has to be part of it.
“I want the paintings to have depth and meaning in the things that are in them. The sketches start with the armature of geometry, and that undergirds the painting, and hopefully the feeling. When I have diagonals, I hope there is a feeling of dynamism and maybe even aggression. When it’s horizontal, there’s quiet and serenity.
“I think in sculptural terms. Light and shadow on a form, how to make it round. So, when I’m painting, I already see it in my head, so I just need to bring it out, bring it to fruition.”
Haynes tells of how, when he attended school, it was commonly assumed that that illustration and fine art were poles apart and that representational art - and the skills necessary to create it - were under appreciated. He believes that is changing. “I see my figurative storytelling as part of that movement,” he says.
“I’m in search of beauty. In form. In color. In storytelling. Viewers of my paintings are invited to come along for the ride. Just come with me to this place, and we can enjoy it together.”
You can see more of Bryan Hayne’s work in “New Regionalism: The Art of Bryan Haynes” by Karen Glines and “Growing up with the River” by Dan and Connie Burkhardt, or visit his website at
Patrick Murphy has worked in St. Louis radio and television for the past forty years. He has produced a variety of arts-related programs for for St. Louis public television, including the series "Arts America" and "Night at the Symphony". He currently serves on the Webster Groves arts commission and is an aspiring water colorist.