Apology for four-legged friend's misdemeanour gives rise to artistic expression

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 April, 2011, 12:00am


Phil Hayes used to live on a farm in Australia with his Rhodesian Ridgeback dog. One day he learned that his four-legged friend had killed one of the neighbour's chickens. To apologise, the pop artist made a drawing of his dog and gave it to his neighbour. Since then, some 20 years ago, Hayes has been including canines in his art that varies from etchings and drawings, to paintings and sculptures.

In Hayes' latest exhibition, entitled 101 Faithful Friends at Damina Gallery, he showcases 101 dogs in an abundance of multicoloured and mixed-media decorated works. The dogs come in three sizes, from a small breed Chihuahua-sized work to larger sheepdog sizes. 'When people see the collection, each dog is completely different to all the others,' says the artist, whose present works feature in his 12th solo exhibition.

The former fine art lecturer at Sydney's University of New South Wales has exhibited in more than 150 group shows around the world, including Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture Gallery in Yokohama, Belgium's International Exlibris Centrum, Stedelijk Museum, Brazil's Brusque Art Museum, and in the United States.

To produce 101 dogs, the Australian native first sculpted one dog and then commissioned carvers in Bali to reproduce 30 in timber. The remainder were cast in polystone (a material commonly used for kitchen tabletop counters). Of the total, Hayes painted and finished 80, while artists from Australia, Europe, the US, Hong Kong and the mainland completed the rest.

'When I was doing it, my friends saw the dogs and asked if they could do one too,' says Hayes, who works as senior vice-president for surfboard company Quiksilver in Hong Kong. One of his favourite works is the Swarovski crystal dog with skull and bones detailing. 'It was inspired by Damien Hirst's skull covered in Swarovski crystals. When I saw that, I just had to do one of my own,' he says. Another of Hayes' top picks is the Aboriginal art-inspired dogs covered in black with white dots. 'It reminds me of home, especially since I've collected Aboriginal art.'

The idea for the dog exhibition came about by living on Prince's Terrace in Central, where Hayes would be greeted by a friendly pack of dogs most evenings when arriving home, says the artist, who moved to Hong Kong in 2008.

'[Dogs] have only recently come back to my work, I've never focused on them this much. It's only [previously] been just a small part in my paintings,' he says. 'If I did a painting about being here in Hong Kong, the dog would only be a small icon in the painting.'

Other weird and wacky dogs include works covered in denim, a dog standing on a surfboard and dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, and a cloth-covered canine that resembles a mummified dog, Hayes says. Artists in the show include PikPik Zoo Group; graffiti art group Start from Zero, who tore up one of the group's posters and stuck it all over their dog as a collage, and Australian David Rossiter who made a striped dog.

As part of the exhibition's proceeds will go to the Hong Kong Dog Rescue, the charity organisation's founder, Sally Andersen, says: 'I like it because it's funky art and not traditional. It's different from anything else I've seen.'

101 Faithful Friends by Phil Hayes is at Damina Gallery (www.damina-gallery.com), 65 Peel Street, Soho Central, tel: 2549 7711. The exhibition ends on April 28.

The non-profit Hong Kong Dog Rescue (HKDR), which has rescued, rehabilitated and rehoused thousands of dogs since 2002, is still looking for a permanent residence. Last year, the HKDR was forced to move from its Pok Fu Lam site and found temporary shelter in Tai Po. 'We're still waiting for the Lands Department to process our application for a site in Sai Kung. It's a work in progress,' Andersen says. 'But we are still continuing to look for other places [based on] what happened with our Tung Chung site last year.'

Before moving to their present site in Tai Po, HKDR had initially planned to move to Tung Chung, but didn't receive planning permission.