Understanding the work of Jamie Hayon isn’t always easy but his fantasy world is certainly laced with an overwhelming sense of fun.
The wonderfully exuberant Spanish designer, Jaime Hayon, came onto the design scene in the early 2000’s like the proverbial breath of fresh air. The rule of minimalism that was so firmly in control at the time has slowly petered out since this time and has largely been replaced by a new openness, where personality and minimal contemporary design are working hand in hand. Hayon of course didn’t achieve this feat singlehanded. Hella Jongerious, Marcel Wanders, Patricia Urquiola and lots of others brought aspects of craft, a sense of fun and a strong personal vision of shape, colour and materials to the table. In an era that was becoming too much about rational good design and not enough about the emotional response to objects, Hayon quickly became a symbol of a fresh new approach, where cartoon elements, extravagant shapes, surreal characters and street art all came into play.
“Evolution and discussion, that’s what is important. But, the most important thing of all is to have fun and be yourself. Everyone is unique and if you can bring that quality out in your work, then you are being true to yourself and everything will be enjoyable.”
Once a sponsored skateboarder and graffiti artist, Hayon spent over a year living in San Diego in his late teens and developed a strong affinity with the street culture there – designing graphics for skateboard decks and developing his art. This connection with the skate/graffiti sub culture eventually led to a range of vinyl dolls in the early 2000’s and at a press conference for the launch of the dolls in Taiwan, Hayon revealed his contempt for traditional teaching methods. “I was taught in the ways of the Bauhaus while at design school. How can we progress when we are being taught the ways of the past? My career went very well after I graduated because whatever I had learnt, I erased from my memory and I started to question the profession of design.”
Whatever misgivings Hayon had for his design education at the Institute of European Design (IED) in Madrid, he excelled there and won a scholarship to complete his degree in Paris. With very little design work in Spain when he graduated, Hayon applied to Fabrica, the design institute/think tank of Benetton in 1997 and moved to Italy. Here his talents were immediately recognised and Hayon, still in his early twenties, rose to head of the design department within a year.
Working closely with Oliverio Toscani, the brands communications guru, Hayon oversaw shop, restaurant and exhibition design and all the associated graphics with a staff of thirty people. While working at Fabrica in Veneto, he rented warehouse space nearby and started work on his first 3-D models, exhibiting his work in 2001 at the Studio Camuffo Gallery in Venice.
His first major art exhibition however, was in London in 2003 at the David Gill Gallery. An unintended by-product of the exhibition’s brilliantly intriguing name, ‘Mediterranean Digital Baroque’, was that Hayon’s style is regularly referred to as Baroque – a name he is hotly against. “Many people describe my work as Baroque. It’s not baroque at all. I just like femininity in design!”
Featuring large walls painted with Hayon’s fantastical street-art characters as a backdrop for colourful abstract ceramic cacti and strange ‘Supersonic’ pigs, the show was an unqualified success. A later exhibition ‘Mon Cirque’ in 2005, travelled to Frankfurt, Barcelona, Paris and Kuala Lumpur. It was while the show was in Barcelona that renowned Spanish architect/designer, Oscar Tusquets Blanca, became interested in the possibility of turning some of Hayon’s art works into production pieces. This was to be the start of an ongoing relationship with Spanish design brand BD Barcelona that has been an important part of Hayon’s career.
The company has produced several of Hayon’s most famous designs, such as his ‘Showtime’ collection of chairs and tables and the electric blue ‘Multi-leg’ cabinets.
Around the time Hayon set up his own studio in Barcelona in 2004, he met Nienke Klunder. The Dutch photographer had also been through the Fabrica research centre in Veneto. Klunder and Hayon have since married and have a young child (one can only imagine the bizarre objects this child will get to play with!). While Klunder has her own successful career, she is also behind some of Hayon’s most memorable portraits.
In recent years the couple have worked on joint exhibitions such as ‘American Chateau’, held at Spring Projects in London in 2009. Hayon’s 3-D art pieces and Klunder’s eerie self portraits revealed their different approaches to a theme that brought together America’s iconic cultural exports with the opulence of 17th century European craftwork.
“When you do a piece for a gallery it’s a different mentality (than with a product). You can say something, provoke. You have no limits on what you can do. That freedom gives you a breath of air that sometimes leads you to industrially made products later on”, says Hayon.
He sees the work he shows in art galleries as a way for ideas to progress without concerns for practicality, cost and popularity. He sees his production pieces as a fusion between art and production but is adamant that the essence of the art piece must be maintained. “We will never sell ourselves to the devil. We respect a company’s methods but we respect our ideas too!” says Hayon.
Reinventing Lladro, the Spanish figurine company started in Valencia in 1953 would definitely be considered a bridge too far by most contemporary designers. In mid 2006 however, Hayon took on the role of art director of the brand and since taking creative control has introduced a much more radical aesthetic – including many of his own bizarre characters and scenes. ”Lladro was a company that wanted to renew itself – that’s why the project interested me. Many of my friends questioned why I would want to work with a company like that but Lladro are now selling 20% more than when I came onboard” says Hayon.
“Working with us is like bungee jumping. The first time you try it you’re as scared as shit – after three weeks you’re jumping off while talking on a cell phone. It’s the same for our clients. They are often worried at first because we do things in a more random way.”
At this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan, Hayon was busy launching ‘Gardenias’, his new outdoor furniture range for Spanish brand BD Barcelona. The collection brings together many of Hayon’s preoccupations: expressive shapes, carefully considered colour and a playful attitude to life.
The range is typically flamboyant and includes everything from a delicate metal watering can to terracotta vases and an armchair with it’s own ‘pergola’, but Hayon’s love of romanticism isn’t at the expense of refined solutions. The process used to make the ‘Gardenias’ furniture pieces involves welding cast and extruded aluminium sections together and it was developed specifically for the project. A newly developed DuPont powder coat finish was also used to keep the metal furniture 5 degrees cooler than with regular coatings.
Martin Kornbak, the founder and CEO of Danish furniture and lighting brand &tradition, who have recently launched the ‘Catch’ chair by Hayon, is extremely proud to be collaborating with the Spaniard and stresses that Hayon is no design dandy. “He is a down to earth guy who is always personally involved – right down to the tiniest detail – whether he is working for a large brand like Fritz Hansen, or a small one like &tradition, says Kornbak.
Hayon is also particularly enamoured with many traditional techniques – from thrown and cast ceramics to crystal cutting and woodcarving but as with his attitude to teaching methods, he doesn’t see the point in simply reproducing what has gone before. He wants the past to be kept so it can be reinvented in the future. “If you look at traditional techniques properly and examine them for what they offer then use them in a new way, it ensures the future of these techniques and the companies that use them to produce objects. I’m past future!” says Hayon enthusiastically. “Every project is a world – we work with people we like and ones which are prepared to question the boundaries.”
From the 12 October 2013 to 30 March 2014, the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands will be presenting the first Jaime Hayon retrospective, covering his work from the last ten years.