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    Meredith Hayden's new show, "Secrets of the Dragon King's Daughter," opens Thurs., Jan. 14 at Dragon King's Daughter, 1126 Bardstown Road (near Ellwood), with an hors d'oeuvres reception from 6:00 until 8:00 P.M. The Asian fusion cuisine of the restaurant is the ideal backdrop for the paintings; her work is hard to categorize but evokes, if only for a moment, Georgia O'Keefe with a Buddhist sensibility. It's a concept Hayden finds hard to describe. "I don't have a label," she says. "That's what's freeing about it."

    Hayden's bright colors and clean style are most at home with her watercolor and chalk pastel depictions of flowers, particularly lotuses, a symbol of the Buddhism that she and restaurant owner Toki Masabuchi practice. "It's just so inspiring to me to capture the life of a flower, because it's always growing and changing," the Highlands resident says. "I like to be able to crystallize that so other people can enjoy it… I like to capture beauty for the purpose of sharing it with others." She adds that the lotus is unique in that it blooms and reproduces at the same time, creating cause and effect simultaneously—and also holds a message for the viewer. "It's a beautiful flower that grows in the muckiest of swamps, and that's a metaphor for us as people: We can pass any adversity."

    The Philadelphia native came to Kentucky after studying acting for a year at NYU. Slowing down after a rough year in New York, she went to stay with family in Owensboro, then came over to Louisville, where Hayden attended the Derby and "thought it was always like that!" That was nearly fifteen years ago and Hayden has grown to love Louisville even more, particularly its arts culture. "It's a really good place to be creative and know yourself," she says. A fan of live music, plays and Louisville's galleries—her work has been a fixture on the Frankfort Avenue Fat Friday Trolley Hop—Hayden finds inspiration in all forms, including in teaching others, which she has done in various incarnations through the years. While she currently teaches art at a nursing home, she enjoys giving private lessons.

    Hayden works from live flowers but also from photographs she's taken herself of sunsets and still lifes—and, in absence of these, allows her imagination to plot her course. "I even like when they've kind of had it," she says of her not-so-fresh floral models. "I like to bring them back to life." She also works on more animate objects too, and is investigating capturing human forms through figure drawing. "I'm trying to free myself to move into other things." As an extension of this, Hayden is going to Italy later this year to explore Renaissance art.

    The paradox of freedom and discipline comes with Hayden's drive (or lack thereof) to work. "I've learned that you just can't wait for the inspiration—when you've got it, you've got to take advantage of it and use it," she says. "It's difficult to really get yourself to draw when you don't feel like it. I discipline myself to work when I don't feel like working, because once you get started, anything can happen." Sometimes she'll go six months creating many paintings, followed by months of very little painting but sketching, researching and learning more about potential subjects. Still, she says she tries to draw every day, and the results have graced the walls of places where people gather for their own everyday activities: Day's Coffee, Heine Bros. and Breadworks, to name a few. Although her red- and purple-hued visual delights may appear effortless once hung on the wall, Hayden finds success in varying degrees, just like everyone else does. "It may take many paintings to get to the one I want to present, and sometimes I have sketches that come out right as they are."

    The name of Hayden's corporation, Mere's Muse, cites an integral part of her motivation: her muse. " I like it because it's important to have a muse and know what your muse is," she says. One's muse, she says, isn't necessarily one of the Greek goddesses down from Olympus: "It's really about finding out about ourselves and getting to know ourselves. It's neat to ask people what inspires them."

    The show runs until February 28. For more information, call Dragon King's Daughter at 632-2444. For a sneak peek at some of Hayden's work, visit her Facebook page, Mere's Muse, or contact her at

    For more information: Check out JCC CenterState's presentation of 'Cabaret.'

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