Native San Franciscan Kristine Mays always wanted to share her heart with her city. In 2014, she finally had the chance, thanks to the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation’s “Hearts in San Francisco” project, which places striking, 400-pound, heart-shaped sculptures adorned by local Bay Area artists in public spaces throughout the city. When Mays took the financial leap and moved into a larger studio that year, she finally had enough space to embark on her dream project, covering her heart in the artfully shaped wire that is her signature.
Other successes followed swiftly from that commission. Mays received news that she was one of the 30 Bay Area regional finalists in the BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Artisan Series competition, which she had applied to months earlier in the hopes of challenging herself and giving her career momentum. “I wanted to find avenues in which to show my work in new ways,” she says. “I think that part of being an artist is putting yourself out into the world in ways that you would never imagine.”
Originally inspired by jewelry-making, Mays, a self-taught artist, has been working with wire for more than 20 years, weaving hundreds of metal filaments to create delicate sculptures. Her subjects range from flowing dress forms that celebrate female strength to defiant figures caught in gestures of protest. A single, labor-intensive work may take over 60 hours to complete.
For the BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Artisan Series competition, Mays submitted The Entanglement of Black Men in America (2014), a wire sculpture in the shape of a hooded sweatshirt, created in memory of Trayvon Martin. “It meant something more to me than any of the other pieces that I’d created at the time,” she says.
At the award reception in Miami, Mays learned that she was the national Grand Prize Winner. “I was so excited just to be there,” she recalls, “that when they called my name I was just completely overwhelmed with the idea that I won.”
That exciting year was, in many ways, a whirlwind for Mays, and one that jumpstarted her life as an artist. Between working on her dream project and winning a national art prize, she also exhibited in her first museum show, “From Women’s Hands,” at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. Mays credits these breakthroughs to the risks that she took in order to gain new platforms for her creativity. “Being an artist and making artwork is always about taking a leap of faith,” says Mays. “It’s about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.”