James Harrison: Honest Paintings, Whether You Like Them or Not.
August 3, 2015
Issue 001: James Harrison
James Harrison knows color; many of his pieces stand strongly as groovy sprawled-out patterns (see: Trippy Groovy). His honest paintings are shocking with their juxtaposition of brightness and nonchalant titles. We find his vision to be refreshing and frankly, we’re obsessed. Get ready to be thrown into a whole other realm of trippy characters in wavy situations. His humble and humorous approach to this work is sure to surprise you, but rest-assured, the work speaks loudly enough for itself.
How did you get started?
When I realized that I could create something that communicates with others and I wouldn’t have to be the one actually communicating my ideas. When I was younger I dreaded public speaking; I used art as a way to balance myself out, to gain friends, and to try to change the way people thought about me through what I was making.
What inspires you?
I am constantly daydreaming about my existence, and how my life could have turned out differently. Most of the day I spend daydreaming about painting: how to make something original or making the “perfect” painting, and what that would look like or if that’s even possible, which it isn’t. I can’t think of something that really inspires me. It’s more of a guilt that I feel when I see other people making things, or friends getting into gallery shows, that I feel I need to get my shit together. I can be inspired by almost anything. It’s just a matter of having the time and resources to get to the studio, and transmitting all of my ideas onto a surface.
What does art mean to you? In other words, define art for us.
Well, I can’t define art for you, because who knows what you think art is.
Art is subjective, I don’t think watercolor landscape paintings are art. We all have generic ideas of what art is or is supposed to be, like painting, drawing, sculpture, etc. What I look for and consider to be art is something that has a sense of purity and honesty.
It’s boring to see art on a wall that is mimicking the same thing everyone else is doing, or it’s just some commercial piece of garbage because the artist wants to make nice things to sell. To me, an honest painting means you can see the process the artist went through: the mistakes, the embracing of those “happy” mistakes that take the painting itself to a whole other place than where it started out. It has this level of purity where it’s not trying to be something it’s not, or feel contrived because it’s afraid of itself. Anyone can make a nice painting, (or if they have the money become a Murakami or Koons and have people do the actual making for you), but it’s difficult to make a painting that surprises you, and makes you question yourself and where this thing even came from. The purity and honesty come from making a ton of paintings, and deciding which ones you vibe with. Sometimes those paintings get thrown away because they suck, but some get kept in the studio and have this special quality that makes you begin to cherish them.
Tell us about your most favorite piece of work that you have done. Why is it meaningful to you?
Haha, it’s a weird thing to have a favorite but I do. I have this one painting of a bear clown face that I made about two years ago when I was living on the west side of Providence, Rhode Island. It’s this pastel colored portrait of a bear clown with its mouth seemingly screaming, and it’s eyes are worried and on the verge of tears. I like it because it was such a weird painting filled with such contrasts of colors and emotions. Pastel colors always remind me of childhood, or are associated with pleasantness. That’s in contrast to this horribly sad face with its mouth echoing a scream;it’s worrisome eyes really encapsulated what I was going through at the time.
It also makes me laugh when I think about it, it’s such a sad silly painting and I think people forget that painting and art can be humorous.
Tell us a deep dark secret.
I think about death everyday.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you travel? And why?
I would travel to Japan. I think it would be fun and weirdly isolating to be in a completely different county not knowing the language or culture and feeling alone but exploring what’s there. I guess I could do that in any country, but Japan seems the coolest. The first artist that got me into art is Yoshitomo Nara, who is from Hirosaki.
It’s happy hour, what are you ordering?
The cheapest beer and lots of them.
James Harrison is based in Portland, OR.