hayden kays bridges the gap between street art and high art

We catch up with the artist to talk Jean Cocteau, Camden Market and selling works to Harry Styles.

by i-D Staff
05 May 2015, 5:30pm


Inspired by 50s pop art and its use of the iconography of popular culture (stamps, brillo boxes) as a social commentary on capitalism and consumerism, the work of British artist Hayden Kays veers towards the Warholesque. (He once told an interviewer that spending time with him was like ''15 minutes of lame'' while his Wikipedia entry describes him as the artist who sold works to celebrities). But this is where the comparison must end. While Warhol's work alludes to the hollowness of fame and the flatness of meaning, Kays's points to greater truths. Painter, sculptor and print maker, for Kay, art is sets you free from a life full of lies. His work is also heavily weighted in both humour and satire, with Call 911 It's 911, a depiction of smiley faced Twin Towers, as they've just been hit, alongside a caption ''I'm falling for you'', being the most poignant example. Never far from his typewriter, for Kay the relationship between image and text is paramount, which is perhaps why his work is so often described as bridging the gap between 'street art' (a term which he has since fallen foul of) and high art. With his The 10 Ten exhibition currently on tour, and having just donated two signed prints to Sadie Frost's annual Hepatitis C Fundraiser, which we catch up with the artist to talk Jean Cocteau, Camden Market, and selling work to Harry Styles.

What made you decide to become an artist?
I've worked a hundred different jobs. I never decided to be an artist. I decided to not do anything else.

How would you describe your aesthetic?
I'm not able to describe my aesthetic. I'd like to think it was inimitable.

What does street art mean to you why is there an increasing demand for it?
I'm so fatigued with the term 'street art'. I think there is demand for it from people that don't know what their own taste is. If you've an anodyne mind you'll be right at home with some 'street art' prints from Camden Market on your wall.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Camden Market.

You've spoken about coining the phrase '15 minutes lame' can you elaborate on this further?
An interviewer once compared me with Andy Warhol. He then asked me what my Andy Warholesque quote was. I told him the last 15 minutes with him had been lame. '15 minutes of lame'.

Your work references 50s pop art and the whole culture of celebrity, how do you feel about being known as the artist who has sold art to Harry Styles and other celebrities?
I didn't know I was known as the artist that sold work to Harry Styles. I've sold work to hundreds and hundreds of people. Just a handful of those hundreds happen to have unusual jobs. The culture of celebrity isn't anything new. The human has always demanded to admire and aspire, I mean Jesus Christ.

Should all art be social commentary?
No. Definitely not. Artists should only ever make what they think they should make. As soon as you start trying to be something or someone your not it doesn't work and is obvious. For me art is about honesty. Life is so full of lies. Art is the only thing that sets you free.

How important is humour and satire within your work?
Extremely. I live for laughter. I can't separate humour from satire. For me ridicule, irony and exaggeration are the essence of humour.

What three artists do you admire and why?
Three artists I'm looking at currently are Jean Cocteau. Someone recently pointed out my face drawings reminded them of him. I investigated and found mine are a total rip off of his work. When it had been pointed out I remembered getting his Drawings book when I was studying, it must have really had an effect, I think it is probably the simplicity. Life is so complicated, art helps me simplify things. Chemical X. He's doing the most wonderful things with ecstasy imaginable. Tom Beard. I'm not sure he'd call himself an artist. I just love his eye. I think he has a very delicate thought process that displays itself in a brutally beautiful way. We are working on a collaborative piece as we speak.

How did you get involved with the Hepatitis C Trust?
My friend Benjamin Murphy invited me to contribute to the postcard charity auction last year. Gemma Peppe asked if I was able to donate again this year. Last year raised so much money and achieved some good noise for the charity I wanted to be part of it all again.

What are the works you've submitted and why are they significant?
I've donated two signed artist proof prints from my The Top Ten exhibition, which is currently on a world tour. Next stop Dubai.

High art or low art?
Everything. All of it. NOW.

Image or text?
I can't look at anything without thinking words. I can't say anything without thinking pictures.

Painting or sculpture?
I don't understand the question. Both. Art is everything.

What are you working on at the moment?

To bid for one of Hayden's prints head over here or to make a donation to the Hepatitis C Foundation call 0845 223 4424

street art
Andy Warhol
Harry Styles
Tom Beard
camden market
Jean Cocteau
hayden kays
hepatitis c fundraiser