AS PART OF THE EM18 GRADUATE PROJECT, WHERE RECENT GRADUATES ARE OFFERED A RESIDENCY IN OUR PROJECT SPACE FOR THE MONTH, WE’RE INTERVIEWING THE ARTISTS ABOUT THEIR PRACTICE AND THEIR VIEWS ON ART AS A WHOLE. OUR FOURTH INTERVIEW IS WITH HARRY MARTIN.
For those who don’t know who you are, can you tell us a little about yourself, and your practice as an artist?
I’m originally from Nottingham and I returned here after studying fine art at Westminster University to re-ground and escape certain aspects of our strange capital city (rent prices and a sense of alienation, mostly). I make large abstract paintings depicting interlocking natural forms that reference underlying patterns within nature, and that play with depth, scale, and perspective to warp the rules of consensus reality. I exhibit the paintings with ambient, drone-like compositions which creates a meditative, enveloping sense of groundlessness. My Buddhist practice, and my love of science fiction and fantasy have a strong influence on my work, the former allowing me to connect more fully with the wonder of this world and the latter inspiring me to create imaginary, immersive worlds in my paintings.
Having come out of university, have you noticed any differences between working as a student artist, and creating your work for a wider, public market?
You no longer have the strong support framework of university, with studios, workshops, tutors, other students etc, and you have to create a new support framework yourself which is difficult but good character development. You’re also not being graded which I find really refreshing – on the one hand how do you grade something as nebulous as art? And on the other the people who are going to be grading your work are constantly having conversations with you about your work which creates this weird pressure to conform to their ideas. Balancing part-time work with my practice is tricky but it makes me use my free time more effectively and means for the moment I don’t have to worry about making a living from my art which would raise all sorts of tricky questions around maintaining my artistic integrity.
When did you first involve yourself with the art scene? Was this due to your educational experiences, or were you inspired from other parts of your life?
I started painting very young, always inspired by nature, then moved into fantasy illustrations as I fell more in love with the books of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin as well as the seemingly endless virtual worlds of Bethesda video games. My first art scene was an online community of fantasy artists and writers. I started exhibiting physical work when I went to art school, where I made work combining performance with minimal abstract sculpture installations. It took me quite a long time to eventually fuse together these two very different practices.
During this residency, what are your plans? How are you using this time at Surface?
I’m making images from dry earth pigment and pastel sticks on unstretched, unprimed canvas, using collaged imagery from decaying natural forms to create a sense of flux and impermanence, of the work moving from one state to another. I have been wanting for a long time to move out of the regular picture frame and into a loose, perhaps sculptural, use of canvas – so how I hang the work will be important, maybe emphasising folds/hanging in unusual places. I still need to work out what I’m doing for a sound piece – probably something quite chaotic to reflect the visual work.
Where else have you exhibited, and other than the EM18 Show on 2nd November, do you have any future exhibitions?
I had a solo show in the project space at Surface Gallery in June, an exhibition as part of the summer school at Two Queens in Leicester, and I exhibit regularly in libraries. I’m exhibiting at West Bridgford Library from January 29th to 19th February next year.
As a final question I’ve asked everyone I’ve interviewed, what do you think is the future of the arts? And if you had infinite resources, what kind of work would you make in that future?
As new technologies develop artists will begin using those very quickly as they already are doing, e.g. VR tech. Artists will continue to experiment with every medium imaginable, creating works that reflect our increasingly bizarre and hypercomplex culture. The art world will have a steadily more unhappy relationship to money as overall wealth trickles up to the top few who will continue to use art as a useful investment to protect their fortunes. For this same reason I think there will be more ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions as more wealth is poured into big artist names, and probably grassroots arts organisations will struggle more.
My work is mostly recycled to tread as lightly on the planet as possible so in a way having access to infinite resources wouldn’t make much of a difference to what I do, unless it meant I would find a giant trash heap filled with all the materials I like to use. Maybe I would build a retreat centre with artist studios, meditation/yoga halls, permaculture garden etc.
Thank you very much Harry! You can see his work at the opening PENUMBRA!