The colorful world of artist and designer Jaime Hayón

An in-depth exploration of one of Spain’s greatest visionaries.

Vase painting by Jaime Hayón
COSMOTIK JUNGLE vase painting by Jaime Hayón (Courtesy of Jaime Hayón)

Earlier this year, at a major exhibition in Valencia’s Centre del Carme Cultura Contemporània, art lovers reveled in a riot of color and creativity: large-scale paintings of flora, fauna and dreamscapes; ceramic sculptures of playful, cartoony humanoids; a series of large tapestry masks, handmade with wool; and retro-style furniture that would be right at home in a chic hotel.  

It would be reasonable to assume this was a showcase of the most trendsetting Spanish artists of the moment across disciplines. But in fact, the whole show, titled InfinitaMente (a play on words meaning both “infinitely” and “infinite mind”), was a retrospective spotlighting just one: Jaime Hayón, one of the country’s most fascinating and influential talents. Multihyphenate would be an understatement. 

“I don’t really think about the separation between [product] design, interior design, art installation or paintings,” explains Hayón, who has done all of the above and more. He has created works both grand and bijou, both wholly fanciful and highly functional. Notable clients run the gamut from home decor to hospitality, with brands like Lladró, Fritz Hansen, Baccarat and the Standard Bangkok, to name a mere few.  

His portfolio is full of wildly different inventions: For Ceccotti Collezioni, for instance, he crafted the T-Bone armchair, a sculptural masterpiece with attention paid to every detail. For Swarovski, he made a fairground carousel adorned with 15 million crystals, shimmering in the middle of an Austrian garden. (Yes, visitors can really take a spin on the merry-go-round, which won a 2020 Wallpaper* Design Award.) “Expression is at the center of it all—sometimes incorporating function into the equation,” says Hayón.  

A teenage love of skateboarding and graffiti culture was an early influence on Hayón, followed by formal schooling in industrial design. Next came a stint at Fabrica, a talent incubator in the Italian countryside that offers residencies to young artists (who stay and study in a 17th-century villa restored by legendary Japanese architect Tadao Ando). The center’s mission—to encourage cross-pollination of ideas between disciplines—evidently left a mark on Hayón. 

Hayón Camper Shoes
Camper Shoes by Jaime Hayón (Courtesy of Jaime Hayon)

By 2001, the Madrid-born creative had set off on his own and established Hayón Studio in Valencia, quickly commanding the attention of curators and critics. This year marks two decades since Hayón’s very first art exhibition, Mediterranean Digital Baroque, an idiosyncratic experience inside the small London gallery of David Gill. Freehand drawings reminiscent of street-art scrawls covered the walls, while sculptures of  “supersonic pigs” were set amid a forest of abstract cacti in colors beyond nature: pink, yellow, blue.   

The exhibition was a defining, freeing moment for Hayón. “It gave me confidence to believe in my work and marked the start of my solo career. People were very interested, and the show sold well, so it made me think, I can do this.” 

Chess installation by Jaime Hayón
The Tournament installation by Jaime Hayón (Courtesy of Jaime Hayón)

Since then, he’s continued to dart between disparate mediums with a rare agility—making his body of work impossible to pigeonhole. “In one article, I was baroque, neo-surrealist, surrealist and minimal decorative,” he once remarked to Time magazine, which anointed him a creative icon in 2007. “Give me a break—I’m just myself, doing my own work.”  

That work is impressively prolific, spanning the commercial to the fantastical. Browse Hayón’s oeuvre and you’ll note a mastery of form and function, reflected in his elegant furniture for the likes of &Tradition and BD Barcelona Design. The contours of BD’s Dino armchair, for example, borrow inspiration from its prehistoric namesake, while also promising maximum loungy comfort. “For me, craftsmanship is at the heart. Industrial production is muscle,” he says.  

Crystal by Jaime Hayón
FAUNACRYSTOPOLIS for Baccarat (Mischievous monkey) piece by Jaime Hayón (Courtesy of Jaime Hayón)

Bridging the gap between practicality and wonder are Hayón’s interior design projects, which inject a sense of delight into the real world. They’re an antidote to sad-beige minimalism—one could never be bored. Recently, he’s gilded swanky hotels like the Standard Bangkok, where his exuberant glamour has garnered multiple awards. Over at the new Art’otel London Battersea Power Station, where Hayón holds the title of signature artist, guests are welcomed by one of his supersized sculptures, The Dreamer, before walking into a gallery disguised as a hotel.

Zoo installation by  Jaime Hayón
Merry Go Zoo installation by Jaime Hayón (Courtesy of Jaime Hayon)

At first glance, Hayón’s many creations seem like a miscellany, but look closer and there are common themes: whimsy, humor, joy. To put it another way, the throughline is a feeling, rather than an aesthetic.  

“The emotional link is a curious detail of how a work can be perceived. It is very primordial in my work. The how and the why are not very important for me,” explains Hayón, who will have another big retrospective this year: a cross-disciplinary show at MAD Brussels, opening in September. “The fact that people feel something, and it appeals to more than the function, is exactly how I see the world.” 

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