Many people in Whitstable will remember Rupert. He was like a cross between a New Age Traveller and a garden gnome. He was sort of dangerous, elemental and loveable all at the same time.
He lived in a ramshackle shed down an alley just off the High Street. Stepping into the alley was like entering a secret pathway to another world. Rupert World, where nothing would ever be normal again.
The shed was full up of all the things he collected – lumps of wood, bits of metal, discarded chunks of old scrap – which he would turn into various works of art. He would grind the surface with an angle grinder, glue various things to it, and then paint the object in hallucinogenic colours, like some mad-cap fantasy from a demented child’s overheated brain.
It was like he was trying to redeem the world with his imagination, reclaiming all the objects that the rest of us no longer value, giving meaning and thought to the forgotten detritus of our throw-away culture.
The work is playful, generous, energetic, bold and distinctive. You can tell a Rupert Hayes’ piece from a mile away.
There are scraps of Rupert’s work dotted about all over Whitstable. It was like he was trying to make his mark while he was here, making sure that he wouldn’t be forgotten. He was relentless and prolific, creating thousands of works of art in a short space of time.
You may know that he had a stroke a few years ago, and is now confined to a wheelchair. Perhaps that’s why he was so intense with his work, that he knew he wouldn’t have long to finish it.
He has lost none of his sense of humour, however. I asked him what drove him to create.
“I was like a dog lifting its leg on all the lampposts to mark its territory,” he said. And he cast me this sidelong glance, and a wry, twinkling smile.