Irish artist Brian Harte creates vibrant collages, incorporating everyday images and objects with vivid colour palettes, geometric designs and indiscernible smears.
Looking at his work, I frequently felt transported into the scene of the painting: it evokes a sort of melancholy, often depicting a single lonely figure in a home environment. It resonates with how many of us have been experiencing life over the past year.
My family and the structure of our home has always been a source for my work. They are a vehicle I use to save me from floating off into space. Themes and concepts arise to me in the act of painting, not before it.
His canvases seem to consist of just one or two background colours, but the textures rise out of the painting on closer inspection. In one: greys morph into greens and blues; an owl hides in the background; paint splatters drip, and letters jolt against a discordance of colours.
One remarkable skill is how he can conjure up a setting, making us realise we are situated in a specific location from the most basic of details. In 2020, Harte released a catalogue of his work with the GNYP Gallery in Berlin, highlighting pieces spanning over the last five years
Q: Please introduce yourself to our readers
A: My name is Brian Harte. I live and work as an artist in a rural part of Ireland with my wife and two children. I mostly make large scale paintings and work from a studio at the back of our house. I exhibit my work internationally.
Q: How do you begin a painting? Do you consider themes and concepts from the outset, or do they come to you while you’re working?
A: I conveniently forget how any painting starts. If I start a white canvas with a strong concept or idea, it inevitably fails. Painting for me isn’t illustration. Heavily conceptual beginnings usually don’t stand up to the pressures of actually making something with a substance that is messy at heart. In saying that my family and the structure of our home has always been a source for my work. They are a vehicle I use to save me from floating off into space. Themes and concepts arise to me in the act of painting, not before it.
Q: Looking closely at your works, they consist of many scattered elements: words, objects, silhouettes, lines, pictures on the walls. How do you decide what to include? Does it all create a cohesive meaning, or is it meant to remain purposefully abstract?
A: What I include or edit out of the work is down to my mood while making I suppose. I work from memory mostly so characters or motifs I include could be re-called images from years ago or more recent references in my life.
I try to create a network of things to engage in. It draws people into the picture plane and then it can go anywhere, which is what I enjoy most about looking at paintings. There are no cul de sacs in the work, there is always a way forward, a place for the eye to move. Cohesive meaning is not what I’m after, more a cohesive mood or a sound from the image.
Q: When do you decide that a painting is complete?
A: Tricky one. Sometimes a great finished painting is the work you didn’t intend to be resolved. The way I work, it’s a case of when you know, you know. (laughing)
Q: How do you think your art has changed over the years?
A: Funny, but I feel I’ve been making the same thing all my life. I have found that in recent years’ work, I’ve had more opportunities to stay in the studio longer. So the work has expanded in all directions; in quality and language. Its exciting and daunting all at once.
Q: Does your location inspire your work?
A: There is no avoiding it, is there. Who we are, the landscape we stand in and the weather we experience are all linked to the work. I’m thinking about Roni Horn here for some reason?
Yes, a lot of colours my work are derived from Ireland and the geographical setting. I live in the midlands of Ireland, it’s like a Dutch landscape essentially. Field and sky meeting as far as the eye can see.
Q: You recently released a catalogue of works, “Bread (and other paintings)”. Can you describe the process of creating and publishing the book? Did it change anything about how you view your art?
A: I was approached by GNYP Gallery director Giovanni Springmeier a couple of years ago to see could we put together a catalogue of my work. Naturally I jumped at the chance. It quickly became clear that putting a project like this together takes time, patience and good people to collaborate with to achieve a result.
I have to mention the designer Julian Bender (aka Granada Hills (The Studio) based in Frankfurt who worked on the book. Incredible guy and talented designer. I also had great contributors including an essay with depth by writer Ari Akkermans and contributions by artists David Harrison and Diana Copperwhite. It took over a year of working on and off but it has been received very well. I’m very proud of it.
Creating a catalogue of work that spans a five year working period puts your work into perspective. I noticed how the work has changed over that time and it gives me a road to take going forward.
Q: Do you have a favourite painting out of your works?
A: I don’t have a particular painting in mind. Just some that have nearly hit the target. (laughing). You always just miss for some reason.
Q: How do you feel about the online art world, and the ways in which it has changed over the last year?
A: Hmm, I don’t know really, I mean I don’t study it’s development from year to year. The experiment is ongoing isn’t it. We have seen an obvious rise in the online experience of art which is both interesting and limiting.
The only problem with it is the sensory blanket over the experience, you miss the feeling of walking through a room, the smell even. I wonder will galleries invent a smell-o-vision app soon? (laughing). We are all doing our best I suppose.
Q: Finally, what do you feel most passionate about right now?
A: I’m very busy in the studio so you could describe this as a passionate thing in my life. I never trusted the word itself to describe making art though. The process in a studio isn’t a continuous ‘passionate’ moment. There are lows, highs and mostly unglamorous determined movements.