Revered sculptor Ray Haydon shares his personal influences and creative processes

Bending, twisting and contorting such inflexible matter as bronze, steel and carbon fibre, Ray Haydon is a master of materials, and surely one of our more attuned artists in New Zealand. Sculpting sinuous, fluid forms, he unlocks the kinetic rhythms of air, art and time.

Here he shares his personal influences and creative processes.

When I was young there were seven of us around the table for dinner (the kids all ate fast!). My dad was an inventor and an expert in radio technology and he encouraged me to make things. I still have some wooden toys I made when I was about five, and I was making huts and trolleys not long after that.

The best thing about my school years was lunchtime and the Sea Scouts. I made life-long friends and started my love of the sea and sailing at around 10 years of age. My earliest serious seagoing adventure was being sucked out by the tide under the Ngapipi Road Bridge on a raft I had made – there was no way I was letting go of it. Eventually, the choice between the raft and not being able to swim to shore presented itself and it was a long wet walk home.

Left: Transition I by Ray Haydon. Right: Vega by Ray Haydon. All enquiries to Sanderson Contemporary.

My family would describe me as somebody who can make anything. I’ve made all sorts of things during my 56 years of working life. From jewellery and silverware, through to handmade fittings for superyachts. I like to think they have all been “beautiful things”. I first started sculpting when my daughter was just crawling — it was a bronze of her — but sculpting was just a hobby for a very long time.

I became a full-time sculptor because eventually, at 50 odd, I realised that was what I got a lot of pleasure from and what I was really good at. I had made a couple of bronze sculptures just before I met my wife-to-be Sarah, who encouraged me to take them to a gallery and I never looked back. Since then, all I’ve done is make art. I’m fortunate to have a great gallery that does the sales and marketing, Sarah does all the admin and my daughter does my website. It works for me!

The most important lesson life has taught me is to believe in yourself to take a risk.

Re-orient by Ray Haydon. Enquiries to Sanderson Contemporary.

One thing people would be surprised to know is that I never went to art school and everything I do is self-taught. The only formal training I had was as an apprentice jeweller in my late teens on Queen Street. Everything I’ve done since then is by trial and error using decades of experience working with wood, metals, resin and more recently with carbon fibre. In my workshop, you’ll find tools and machinery you would recognise, but also plenty of W. Heath Robinson-esque inventions of my own (simultaneously ingenious, overly-complicated and makeshift). My suppliers know better than to ask me, “what are you going to do with that?” But they also like having a different kind of customer.

The biggest thing I’ve had to overcome in my career is being dyslexic. Of course, this condition “didn’t exist” when I was at school but it explains a lot. I wasn’t even comfortable telling people about this until recently.

Passage by Ray Haydon. Enquiries to Sanderson Contemporary.

I stay motivated by doing something new. My practice and following depend on both the known and the new. Each year I have a new project to develop, the big scale works. I’ve usually been thinking about that new idea for a year or more before actually trying it out, and often spend months developing the technique and finish that I want. Occasionally though, I start something almost on a whim, like my most recent work ‘Passage’. A designer asked for a commission brief overnight “large, in deep purple” — that was all. We didn’t submit a proposal (I don’t do large purple things!) but I thought about it a bit over the following weeks, and four months later the first in a new series of works appeared. Apparently, I do large purple things.

To relax and unwind I make things for my boat, the house, the garden or if she’s lucky, my wife. I’m always making things or thinking about making something. My workshop is my happy place. Yes, I relax and unwind when the summer comes and we go off cruising (but I still take some plasticine for modelling!)

The personality traits that have contributed to my success are a dogged determination to work it out.

Happiness is someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. I am incredibly lucky to be very happy. I shall be a sculptor until my last day on this earth.

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