Farmer turned sculptor

Udi Dayan, son of Moshe, spends his days in his hot studio, creating entirely new shapes out of old objects.

Uzi Dayan 521 (photo credit: (Rhonda Spivak))
Uzi Dayan 521
(photo credit: (Rhonda Spivak))
‘From my father I got my hands,” says sculptor Udi Dayan, the 70-year-old son of the late general Moshe Dayan and Ruth Dayan.
The sculptor’s artistic career began some 15 years ago, when he began welding pieces of stainless steel to make birds, farm animals, faces and angels.
Dayan makes sculptures out of everyday items such as pliers, horseshoes, pieces of pipe, old fences, used farm tools and equipment, driftwood, bicycle chains and even dental equipment. His creations recently filled up a majestic home in Jaffa, where he exhibited his work this summer.
His first artistic creation, done many years ago, was made out of driftwood and can be found on the wall of the Tel Aviv apartment of his mother, Ruth, who is now 95 years old.
“My specialty is in finding things and turning them into something different entirely. For example, I took a bicycle chain and turned it into a sea horse. I took a pair of pliers and used them to make a sculpture that looks like a grasshopper.”
Dayan’s skill in welding was honed years ago when he was a farmer.
“I used to be a farmer on the farm my mother and father gave me in Moshav Nahalal and began welding there,” he says. “I would weld the chicken coops on the farm and when the farm was sold I began my career as a sculptor.”
He recalls that “when I was farming in Nahalal, my father liked to come visit.”
References to the Nahalal farm can be found in Dayan’s sculptures. He has sculpted many farm animals, including roosters, ducks, birds and bulls.
Birds are “a symbol of freedom,” and Dayan says that “whenever possible, I try to put a heart on the birds and other animals I make.” He identifies with birds, wanting to be free to make his art in his own way, at his own pace.
Although he now creates sculptures of birds, Dayan says that as a child he used to go with his father “to hunt wild pigeons, which we would bring home,” and later would eat meals of stuffed pigeons.
It was on one of these hunting expeditions with Udi that Moshe Dayan, who was then a major-general and commanding officer of Israel’s Southern Front, was inadvertently introduced to archeology. The father and son passed the biblical town of Tel es-Safi, at the edge of the Hebron Hills, where rain had exposed pottery wedged in the wall of the grooved wadi and, with a little digging, Moshe extracted a few jars.
Dayan recalls these hunting trips fondly. “This was a good part of my childhood. I have no complaints,” he says.
But today, “we couldn’t hunt birds like this,” since it would not be legal – nor would he want to. He loves birds and nature and his passion is to create them through his sculpting. “Now, because of my guilty conscience of killing birds, I create them instead.”
Dayan has also sculpted his father’s face with the black eye patch. “I think it is one of my better pieces of work. It is simple and uses negative space,” he says.
Outside Café Goferman in Rishpon, north of Herzliya, sits a sculpture of a large owl that Dayan has made. “The owl is a clever bird. It is a symbol of wisdom,” he says, explaining that he made the body of the owl out of an old hot water tank.
The cafe is near Dayan’s studio, “and I come here for coffee breaks from my work.”
The artist has filled an outdoor playground and coffee house called Café Gan, which is open to families on the weekend and is also very near Dayan’s studio, with his sculptures. Here he has made a metal birdcage to house the parakeets that children can feed, a vehicle they can sit on and a turtle made of iron and cement with a moving head.
Café Gan also has a large sculpture of a coffee cup with a teaspoon in it. “This was part of an exhibition I had in Haifa,” he explains. “Today the children like to come and sit in the coffee cup and play.”
Dayan has also has made many sculptures of angels. “I don’t use molds. Each one is a little different than the others. The faces of the angels I find on old wooden window blinds from older homes in Jaffa and Tel Aviv.”
The sculptor believes that everything one does in life should be done with heart, and he points to the hearts on the various animal sculptures. “The heart is one of the trademarks of my work,” he says.
Dayan’s sculptures of fish remind him of the days when he would fish near Ein Hod, where his sister, Yael, once had a summer home. “But I don’t eat fish.
Whatever I caught I would sell in the market for money so that I could eat humous in a restaurant,” he says with a smile.
A couple of years ago, he had a joint exhibition of his artwork with the work of his brother, filmmaker Assi Dayan, in Ein Hod. “It was a successful exhibition,” he says. “Lots of people came to see the Dayan brothers. It went well for both of us.”
His work fills his quaint apartment in Tel Aviv, for which he has also made furniture out of metal. “I made all the tables in the apartment,” he says. The metal coffee and end tables all have glass tops.
Dayan’s father also made furniture – but out of wood, not metal – in the small rustic Nahalal home of Moshe’s parents, Shmuel and Devorah.
“People hear about my work by word of mouth,” Dayan says. The sculptor has no website to market his work, nor a catalogue to hand out.
“It can take hours and hours to make a sculpture, and if I use cement,” he adds, “I need to wait for it to dry,” which takes even longer. In the summer he works with his studio open to the air, with only a fan on. “I work until I am sweating so much that I have to stop and take a break and escape the heat,” he says.
Dayan’s studio in Rishpon is on part of an agricultural piece of land. In the studio hangs a small plate with a picture of Moshe Dayan on it. “After 1967, when my father was a hero, I bought it at a market. They sold them as souvenirs,” Dayan says. “He had died already before I became a sculptor and didn’t see me in this stage of my life.”
Dayan’s studio contains a welding machine and lots of pieces of old equipment.
He points to an old kettle that he has turned into the face of an elephant.
The spout of the kettle has become its trunk and he has added metal tusks.
“What’s important is not what’s in the studio, but what’s in my head,” he says. ■