I was a little unnerved when we interviewed Harry; here was a man who was apparently completely at ease with a chaotic self searching approach to an artistic practice. Harry is made of stronger stuff than a lot of artists I've met, he is a lot more concerned with the audience engaging with that internal dialogue than he is with the audience perceiving his work as "finished" pieces. Scares me a bit; I know there's a line of thinking that a work is never finished, only abandoned but really a lot of artists don't choose to abandon the work until they know the viewing public will view it as being finished. Here is Harry, an artist who actually wanted to start the interview, this written form of the interview with a written apology for how he comes across and where he is at in terms of his career and thought process and I think that in it's self says a lot about how brave Harry is; he didn't want me to take anything out, he just wanted to add an apology. I haven't taken much out, there's bits where we rambled off topic, and I'm not going to allow Harry his apology because honestly, I think you'll get him, I think you'll understand that this is an artist who may well be prepared and steeled against a lifetime of enquiry.
Harry Watton: I’m a Yorkshire man so I’ll talk slowly.
Damian Huntley: Where did it come from, your art?
HW: I dunno, I think I’ve always done it, I think there was a point where you had to do your options, you had to choose between art or music and I chose art, kind of reluctantly at the time.
DH: Was that at GCSE age?
HW: Yeah kind of. Then I think coming towards the end of my A levels, I dunno, I think it’d just always been something I’d done and then I applied to do loads of other stuff like being a camera man, I wanted to do I think a degree in that and then I decided I was going to do my foundation do that really because it was more interesting.
DH: Where was your foundation?
HW: It was in Scarborough at Yorkshire Coast College; a great little course really, really little thing in an old Victorian building. It was really good; I had a really good tutor called Kane Cunningham who is a painter who does all sorts of wacky stuff with digital imaging and then painting it and scanning it and painting it and scanning it, all wacky stuff so he was really good, really set me on my way I suppose.
DH: Everyone I talk to looks back so fondly on their foundation.
HW: I think as well I enjoyed getting...... I suppose you have to be kind of pushed in a direction. I mean when you get to do your degree and whatnot they expect you to go and do your own stuff and be a grown up already, whereas when you do your foundation they’ll kind of say, “Oh, what you’re doing there, you’re thinking about Foucault, you just don’t know it, so go and read that....” I enjoyed that. I think it’s something that probably lacks on a degree.
DH: So where did you do your degree?
HW: Northumbria. I did that then I graduated 2006. It was a laugh. I had mixed feelings about it. I kind of enjoyed being able to plod along on my own, I don’t feel there was much guidance except for your visiting artists and such. I quite liked having tutorials with Duncan and stuff ‘cos he’s mint, he was wacky and a bit mad and stuff. I did a lot of stuff just off wing of bat really so I really quite enjoyed it for that. I didn’t really feel like there was a huge amount of pressure pushing you in certain directions.
DH: Well it’s a studio space for a few years which is a big deal.
HW: Yeah, you don’t appreciate it sometimes I think until you’ve finished. Then suddenly you realise you’re locked away in a pokey spare room painting two hours a day or something. You don’t realise how much opportunity you do have at University to just do tonnes of work really.
DH: Do you miss the camaraderie of studios?
HW: A bit. I used to didn’t get much work done really because I’d be playing table tennis or loads of just daft stuff like. I enjoyed that and there’s a better atmosphere because you’re coming up with more crazy things like there was one of my studio mates Sergio who; we’d do all sorts of weird drawings for each other. That was kind of interesting because you had a fun, positive space. It’s sometimes hard to maintain that drive to do something when you’re just sat in a studio just listening to classic FM or whatever late at night.
DH: What’s your modus operandi when you’re working? What gets you going?
HW: Jazz and stuff like that, I’m quite a bit of a music snob. I like Jazz and stuff like that gets me going. Sometimes not even any music on at all, sometimes you just forget about the time and just whittle away. Other times.... I mean most of my work is just drawings so I spend a lot of time just drawing while I’m watching something boring on TV.
DH: Do you keep in touch with the people you shared the studios with?
HW: Yeah a few of them, the ones that have stayed in the area, we get together and talk random art stuff occasionally. Not a huge amount to be honest. Not in terms of art anyway or sharing ideas or anything like that. I’ve probably isolated myself a little bit in terms of that.
DH: Pretty stock question here, because I think it is relevant. Do you think university set you up for working and living as an artist?
HW: It’s a tough one. I know the usual response is no, not at all it was a load of shit. I dunno; I’ve no complaints because I think I came out of Uni and I got what I wanted out of it, I did work quite hard and I did read a lot and I feel like I did learn a lot there. I developed a lot and I developed a lot of where my work’s come from now so I think it would be unfair to besmirch it in one way, to say it was rubbish or a waste of time because it kind of wasn’t. There was a lot of theoretical stuff which I don’t bother so much about now but it still informs a lot of where I’ve ended up going so.... It is a very weird one because there’s not really enough direction or enough practical stuff to really help set you up for maintaining a practice in that sense of it.
DH: You want guidance but when you get someone who’s actually prepared to jump in and say “Try this!” it’s sometimes hard to take.
AH: It’s weird though; what makes good tutors because I do think they need to be a bit of a pain in the arse sometimes. I liked getting tutorials with Cluni Reed while I was there because she used to come in and bollock me for doing boring stuff or go, “You’ve done that before, that’s rubbish.” I quite liked that, whereas sometimes in tutorials you kind of get a barrage of pre-empted questions about what you were doing and whatever. A good bollocking could really sort you out and make you think about what you were doing and re evaluate your practice.
DH: So what did you do straight from University?
HW: I did an internship at the Baltic so I was an artist’s assistant / dogsbody there for a few of the shows. That was quite good but I didn’t really get any money for it so I had to get a job- Marks & Spencers type thing; did that and I did the fellowship at the uni as well. I didn’t ever really get the time to spend how I would like to really because there’s free studio space there and the opportunity to do a bit of teaching and I didn’t really get much chance to do that because I had to get a job and pay the rent unfortunately. Since then it’s just been jobs and painting on the side really all of the time. It happens in bursts really, since February I’vehad a big burst of lots of activity but then there’s bits where I haven’t got any kind of momentum or drive to do anything.
DH: Do you see it as becoming something that will sustain you on it’s own?
HW: Well yeah, that’s the goal, I’d love to get to a place where I’m happy to do my work and want to sell it.
DH: It might be a stupid question but some people are doing it no matter what and some people if they don’t think they’ll ever get to that place, they’ll stop. If you didn’t think you were going to get there would you keep going?
HW: Yeah I would, I mean it’s sort of a natural instinct, I like drawing. Sometimes that’s what’s stopped me from showing work or pursuing a certain line of enquiry, thinking, “Ah what am I doing this for?” and then I might have a week off or something and forget about it and just start doing some drawings and work my way back into something else. I’ll always do it because it’s what interests me, what I like doing. I’d love to be able to live of it; it’s a strange one because I want to get to a point where I’m happy with my work and how I think it might come across to people but before I start worrying about that, I know at the moment it’s not something I do full time, it’s just developing ideas and most of the stuff is drawing so I wouldn’t expect someone to come along with loads of money and go, “Oh I’ll have all that.” But its waiting for a point where all that studio work and all that time and effort is going to turn into something a bit more useful.
DH: Do you think people buy art or do you think people buy into the artist?
HW: It depends what it is. I mean people do buy art, stuff to go on the wall because they think it looks nice. I think people do buy into artists once their work comes across in the right manner and it’s shown in the right places; I think that can snowball a bit. You’ve probably got to make your work quite appealing in the first instance.
DH: My suspicion is there’s a balance. If something’s purely aesthetic and the artist won’t give the public anything to grasp onto, the public might not buy into it. The celebrity artists who make masses of money, I wonder how much of it is because of celebrity.
HW: It’s strange though, I mean people like, your classic like Damien Hirst; people obviously buy it because it’s his stuff but I still quite like his work, I think it’s good and that’s a good balance of that kind of stuff celebrity. A piece of work’s obviously about who he is and his status now. That’s the whole post modern thing isn’t it? It encapsulates all of that, making work and how it comes across into the work it’s self. I don’t think there’s any set way of doing it. Sometimes people’s really impersonal work can come across really well and do its own good by being good and interesting work. I think that’s probably a more substantial way of going about it, as opposed to just getting your face in the paper.
DH: So what’s your primary concern with what you do?
HW: It all starts from drawing. For me there’s tonnes of stuff that goes on in my head when I’m thinking about it and things that interest me are things like signs and semantics of what things mean and what paint means and what a mark is when it’s drawn; those in-depth ideas. Then it’s maybe about translating that into a series of actions that you can use and pulling shapes out of the history of work I’ve made. It’s all very vague, I don’t really know to be perfectly honest. I’ve ended up doing it.
DH: There is something very architectural about a lot of your work from what I’ve seen. How much is that something you focus on?
HW: Enormously, it’s turned into part of the process of how this body of work has ended up. I like starting from drawings and I like that kind of depth of drawing of a finished piece; where you can see some of the marks or some of the initial ideas right through to some really polished parts. I like having that juxtaposition so you can see the process of what’s happened there. I think it’s important for people to be interested in that part of it. The depth of it; I like the idea of having things on the surface and I like people to be quite aware of that kind of thing. I’m also really interested in graphics and architectural structure and how things come across on a computer screen or in print or things like that. That influences me a lot, then sometimes all of that just goes out the window.
DH: What’s the biggest shock you’ve had in a gallery in terms of an artist whose work you thought you knew? For example the first time I saw Cezanne in a gallery I was blown away bow how delicates some of his work was, how you could see the pencil sketch through the paint because in books and print his work sometimes comes across as heavily painted. What’s been your biggest shock?
HW: There’s a couple I can think of, Glen Brown’s stuff; I’m a big fan of Glen Brown having never really seen his work except for in print or whatever and there was one of his in a show that was on at the Laing quite recently, I can’t remember what it was, I remember going and seeing it and seeing all these marks of paint all over it, like texture. I thought it’d be some kind of pristine, ‘as painted by the Lord’ and really über flat. They weren’t, they were flat because it’s part of the work but I mean there were still lumps of paint in it where he could have done something, where you could tell he’d painted over that bit few times.
Another shock I remember having was Mark Rothko’s stuff because I’ve always seen his work and it’s like big old cheesy work and everyone knows what it is. I saw it in the Tate in the Rothko room there and I remember going there and just being amazed. It was really peculiar because I’d never been a huge fan of his work at all and going there, the whole exhibition was really good and really it was almost like an installation with one on each wall and it was really depressing with all of these colours. I thought, that’s how paintings should come across; it was an installation they’d made out of these paintings and I thought that was interesting.
DH: My mother expressed a similar sentiment about Rothko the first time she saw his work; gobsmacked that she liked it. Could I ask, how did you find working at the Baltic?
HW: It was alright, it was mostly just running around. There were three shows I helped with; one was Dzine who did a big multi coloured mural, he’s a graffiti artist/contemporary painter, I enjoyed doing that because it was aesthetically similar to the stuff I’m into and there was some running around in a van and lifting wood and stuff. I enjoyed it, it was alright, it was good experience and it was good to work with different artists, I got to meet Candice Breitz and work with her which was good and I got to see all of these things being made which is quite a unique experience ‘n’ that.
DH: What’s your favourite gallery here?
HW: It kind of flits between a few; I like Workplace, I like the general type of work that gets in and the consideration that goes into the shows they put on, how they match up different artists. Vane always has something interesting or new on. I dunno, I’ve got a lot of time for Baltic as well to be perfectly honest, there’s a load of stuff on at the Baltic that just kind of gets thrown in there a bit randomly but they do put some good shows on every now and again and I think it’s a really good thing to have.
DH: What do you think of the scene in general here?
HW: Every now and again I think it’s really great, you go to a really cool opening and you think, “Ah this is brilliant,” and there’s something on that’s completely off the wall and you think, “oh that’s wonderful” and there’s something happening and loads of people there. Then there’s sometimes because it is kind of a small scene, you feel like you’ve gone to similar shows three or four times in a row over the last six months and you think, “Someone do something different” because there is this element of being smaller, you kind of want there to be more of certain things.
DH: I wonder if you get that everywhere? We both (Ryen and I) lived in Charlotte, NorthCarolina and the art scene there is great in a lot of respects but if you went on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to the “art crawl” you’d see the same stuff over a period of three years, and you’d see the same work go up every other month in a different gallery so it’s kind of just shuffling it around. I wonder if that is just the same everywhere? Places like New York and London; they’re fast moving and it’s different. Where would you like to be?
HW: I don’t know, this is a funny one because I always think about art and I think about London because I’d love to be.... I like being in London, I’ve done a bit of work there, normal boring work but I quite like it. I like stuff happening there and being able to see stuff but then I don’t actually like spending a lot of time there, so I don’t know how that would sit. I sometimes think I’d actually like to be somewhere really out of the way, off on the coast somewhere, just do that for a bit and then go somewhere else. But then, I’ve never been to America and I’d love to go to New York; I might go there and not like it so..... It’s hard to say, I’m kind of flexible, I fancy trying to find somewhere outside of Newcastle I think, I’d like to develop out of Newcastle soon.
DH: Sarah (Blood) suggested when we spoke to her that the North East is a great place to be based even if your audience isn’t necessarily here because there is a lot of support from local organisations.
HW: It is for those reasons, and cheap studios and rent compared to London which is why I’ve always stayed. At the same time I think you sometimes miss out influence wise; having such a diverse range of influences. There is quite a good spread of stuff, coming from a town like Scarborough where there’s paintings of the sea and photos of donkeys and nowt else (Harry Edit: actually Scarborough has a couple of excellent small independent galleries), obviously Newcastle is much better and there’s things you can go and see and there’s interesting new work that you don’t know is happening. If you really want to get into interesting contemporary painting, there’s not a whole lot in Newcastle, I think that it sometimes suffers. There are bits of things in pockets and sometimes something will happen. The advantage of somewhere like London is that there’s pretty much always going to be something you can go and look at and go and learn from.
DH: Is there a piece of art that you could point your finger at that got you interested initially?
HW: That could be anything. I think initially things like Kandinsky, all the old Modernists.
DH: So where did you come across Kandinsky?
HW: On my foundation course, like I say my tutor was a barmy old painter who did crazy modernist stuff, he was a bit of a loony. It was good at that time and then to come to uni and be introduced to more contemporary art. I think art was always the thing that challenged me to try to understand stuff; you can do something and not be wrong as such. You try to understand why you’ve done something and what it means once you’ve done it, so it was always something where you could evaluate yourself and once you started playing with it a bit you realise there’s loads more you can learn and try to understand it all and it’s all just like a big game you can keep on playing almost. When I did my A Levels I did really enjoy it because I did maths and things and enjoyed doing really boring, really straight forward stuff. It’s still something that inspires me and I read loads of science stuff and that feeds back into my work. I like to play over in my head, rattle scientific and mathematical ideas off creative, bonkers pictures of ants or whatever. That’s what always got me going with art and I was pushed in that direction because it was it was an entirely different kind of challenge from just learning something and doing it.
DH: So what do your family do?
HW: My dad is an electrical engineer and a blues guitarist. My mum is an ex- nursery nurse and she works in Early Years Provision. We are a very musical family more than anything else, everyone plays something, my brother plays the double bass, quite a good creative background in that sense. My mum would always encourage us to go out and do silly things. Also at school, one of my best mates, we always just did loads of drawing because I suppose we went through GCSEs and A levels then foundations altogether and different art classes all the way through, so we were always just bouncing stupid ideas of each other and getting drunk and doing silly drawings and stuff like that. I think maybe that was the thing that I knew there was something really interesting about it as well as studying the more traditional stuff I suppose. I’venever really thought about it like that but maybe that was a subconscious drive and I knew there was actually something quite interesting and quite good fun about art.
DH: So does your partner work in the arts?
HW: Yeah, we did our degree together, that’s how we met; she does more professional stuff with it, she worked at the Baltic as a curatorial assistant - as part of the programme team - and then she left there wanting a new challenge. Now she works for Northumbria University’s Baring Wing Gallery. She paints as well in spurts.
DH: Do you like each other’s work?
HW: I love Katie’s work, I think Katie says she likes my work. It’s good because I think when she’s in the right mood she’s really good to talk to about painting and stuff because she’s a really good painter. Because we both work full time, it’s always hard to maintain your enthusiasm. I’m a bit better than her at doing that, I’m really quite focused on doing painting, I enjoy it. I’ve found that sometimes when I’ve worked less in a day to day job, like when I’ve had less hours at the Drum Centre, I’ve been quite happy to just spend the day playing Play station or something unproductive and rubbish and then I’d quickly do some drawings for an hour just to convince myself that I’d done some work that day. Now I work full time and I do other bits of freelance work in my spare time and suddenly I find I’ve got no time and I think, “Right I’ve really got to do loads of work,” and I’ll come home from work and start doing some painting. It’s weird sometimes; justifying the fact that you just do a little drawing, like just a drawing of a spider drinking a cup of tea or something completely bonkers and banal really but it kind of keeps the momentum going and so it’s kind of important.
DH: It is important, just that primal mark making has always been important to humans. I sometimes think that it’s something people don’t give enough credence to, the fact that we are separated from animals by this capacity to create and think creatively.
HW: To do things that actually have no real rhyme or reason to them, just the challenge.
DH: You work a lot on paper?
HW: Yeah, it’s not always been like that, I don’t mind working on canvas, I’ve tried to lots of times but I like to get a really kind of graphic flat feel to stuff, or I think it’s drifted that way because it ties into how I’m interested in print and how something that can be very done by hand can come across quite flat. The paper just seems like the most sensible thing to work on at the moment because I do a lot of drawings and underneath that (pointing towards a painting on an easel,) there’s days of drawing and stuff under there that kind of gets rubbed out then painted over, then rubbed out then painted over. It seemed like the most appropriate thing to do. I worked a lot on board which I quite like but for some reason, it’s probably just a technical thing that I could get over, but I never seem to be able to prime it in a way that there’s no grain shows through. Paper’s just perfectly flat and it’s absorbent and I like it, I like the edges (referring to the plain unpainted boarder left around the piece on the easel).
DH: I stopped using paper because I always used to go straight through it and ruin it. Have you killed many pieces?
HW: Not really, I mean I just like paper, it’s nice to work on, very easy to work on stuff. Eventually the works get built up to such an extent that it doesn’t really matter so much, I end up working paint on top of paint, on top of paint so I don’t really worry so much about how porous it is.
DH: Are you concerned about the permanence of what you’re doing?
HW: Eventually I think I will be because I know it’s not very permanent and lasting on paper.
DH: There’s stuff has survived hundreds of years on similar materials, I just wonder with every artist how much they are concerned with the archival quality of their work.
HW: I would like to say that I do but I probably don’t at all. I’m terrible for just doing something on whatever is lying around. It’s a strange one; I think all of that side of things matters if you really care about people wanting to collect your work. At this particular stage in my career, I’m just not particularly bothered if a work dies in thirty years. It’s a bit of work that I’ve done now; I’ll do something else in thirty years.
DH: So would you say you’re more interested in your enquiry than in the permanence of what you do?
HW: At the moment definitely yes, I think it’s more important to thrash your ideas out and do some stuff and see how it works and then change it and do something else. Just to play around with stuff at the minute. I think after a while if I’m 50 or something and thinking, “Why the hell isn’t my stuff selling?” I might take another tact or something but at the minute it’s a case of really thrashing ideas out and trying to pull it all together. That’s why I do tonnes of drawing because it’s important. The idea is that at some point I can start to fuse that into some of the work in which I might take a more considered view in terms of that kind of stuff. At the moment it’s just some ideas. It’s weird because when I start to try and make a finished piece even on a small scale, I just kind of hate doing it, it doesn’t feel like it’s particularly experimental; so it’s difficult trying to balance that process of thrashing out ideas and being a bit carefree about it with something that actually starts to bring it together in a more cohesive way, in a way that’s easier for people to read than just a big pile of crazy ideas.
DH: Do you care about the audience?
HW: Yeah I do, I think it’s important that your work has to bear in mind that it’s made for someone to look at it. I’ve always been interested in making work that can be not just looked at but actually moved around. What I do at the moment is all 2D stuff but for my degree show I did all sorts of things where I’d have paintings on the wall in weird places so that you were made to look at them in a strange way or I had paintings on stands so they looked like plants almost. I wanted it to be that kind of strange experience where you’re forced to have a bit of a, “what the hell’s that? Is it a painting? Is it a thing?” I think that’s always something I’d like to get back to at some point. I’m quite aware that it’s quite easy to hole yourself away in a spare room studio and just do loads of crazy work for myself and things like that. I think just by showing your stuff you can bear in mind your audience and if people want to look at it they can look at it and that can be enough; I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with that. I would like to make work that responded to people more in a physical sense as well and got them to engage with it somehow but it’s kind of awkward to do that with oil paint.
DH: To what extent do you think critics are right about who the audience is? I often wonder if critics look at art as if critics are the audience. Who do you care about as an audience? Would you rather have critical acclaim or public acclaim?
HW: I’d probably rather have critical acclaim to be honest but I wouldn’t say no to people liking my work. I think because it’s not something that I rely on for my job or for money because I work full time for that; that’s what I spend all of my time 40 hours a week for, it’s not something I worry about in terms of how work’s received and if people are going to buy it or are people going to come to my shows? I think it’s better for me because it’s something I can be a little bit more open or free with. I’d much rather people thought it was interesting rather than just nice but it depends on your audience.
DH: Do you have your own work up around your house?
HW: A bit. I like looking at my work in a studio setting and thinking about it, “I don’t like that bit, that’s something to work on,” and that’s how I look at my work, I don’t like it being on a wall to just look at because I’m just sat there thinking, “ah that’s really crap that bit.” I’d just sit and linger over it. My worst thing is going to bed at night and thinking of some completely bizarre project I could do with something. There’s something going on at the minute and I keep thinking of doing this painting with loads of bunting hanging round it and all kinds of other stuff and I keep going to bed and thinking about making this installation.
DH: Is there an area of art you haven’t tried that you’d like to?
HW: Yeah, I’d love to have the time to do film; I’d love to spend time doing that. I think, like my painting, I’d have to spend a lot of time researching it and doing weird stuff like just filming a bus and taking loads of film and just mashing it together and trying to develop an aesthetic idea out of that or something. I think that’s something I’d love to do but there’s a lot of time involved in something like that. The other thing that I’d like to do that I might realise is installation work; I really enjoy making installations and stuff but again it’s the time and the effort that I’d want to go to, to make something happen, it’s just not something I can do at the moment so drawing’s much more practical in that sense.
DH: Drawing is something you can take anywhere with you conveniently, I’m kind of envious of that aspect of drawing.
HW: Do you not draw at all?
DH: After an initial sketch I always just take it straight into paint.
HW: I do a lot of drawing because it’s something that was almost beaten into me on my foundation course. We were just drawing all the time, constantly and I feel more of an engagement with drawing than painting and I think that’s something that I’m trying to change, I do love painting but sometimes I just don’t understand it and sometimes bits just don’t work, just boring stuff that’ll come with practice. I have more control of that side of things with drawing, the ideas I have are better expressed with drawing because I can just bang it out whereas I kind of want to make a commitment to painting somehow. It all starts with drawing for me.
DH: Top three artists ever?
HW: Oh dear.....
DH: I know it’s a crass question but today; who are your three favourite artists ever today?
HW: Today erm..... I think always Basquiat, Gerhard Richter, actually maybe hold off on Basquiat for the time being and see what else fills the gap. Definitely Gerhard Richter is my all time favourite painter, every time I see his work, conceptually and physically they’re very good. Who else? I know who and I can’t think of his name.... Francesca Di Mateo, I lovethe structure and the looseness and how it all ties together; it’s on that side of being so complex and crazy that it almost completely looses it but it’s because of all the really strong perspectiveand the depth in it that it’s all held together.
DH: There’s a lot of the same kind of structural feel to your work.
HW: I always like really explosive, graphic, weird work, it’s something I’ve been really in to. I like structure, quite boringly I quite like maths, I like plotting sequences and how things should fit, and vectors and how they work. I think it’s quite interesting and they can describe how you fit in the world and how things work in the world on a physical level and that really does influence a lot of my work.
DH: What’s the favourite place you’ve been, building, site.......?
HW: In terms of that kind of thing, probably Berlin because a lot of it’s very big architecture, very unlike some other places. My favourite places are things like woods, lakes and mountains, that sort of thing. I love the Lake District; I could be there all day. I suppose from the architectural side of things there’s too much choice.
DH: Thinking about Berlin, do you feel much of a connection with the mid to early 20th century art scene?
HW: It depends what you mean by connection. I think it’s all really important and there’s a lot of really great ideas, aesthetic ideas that you can take out of it because there was a lot of experimental and observational work done in the world and it is what we think of this bit that’s happening here. Of course the early half of the 20th century was a lot more conceptual and they were looking at the world from a different point of view but I think there’s still a through line of artistic ideas that have carried on that I’d like to involve in my work.
DH: I think there is a kind of old school aesthetic about what you do. There’s a traditional line of enquiry in what you are doing, do you feel part of a more traditional focused way of looking at your body of work?
HW: I think in terms of methodology yeah, there’s a lot to be said for spending a lot of time thinking about something, practicing it, getting it wrong and doing it again and crafting who you are and why you work. I don’t ever want to make work that’s just an idea where someone could go, “Oh I’ve got that idea, I’ll go look at some other stuff now.” That’s one of the defining qualities of good interesting artwork for me; you can go and look at it or experience it a hundred different times and get something different from it. I think there’s too much work where you get the idea, you get where the artist is coming from and you can’t be bothered to spend any more time looking at it because there’s nothing crafted. I don’t mean crafted in the traditional sense I mean terms of the idea. I’ve got a lot of time for a lot of contemporary work that gets you thinking and makes you keep playing around the complexities of how it’s been made. For example Damien Hurst, when he recently sold all of his work kind of as an artistic performance almost; that for me was an interesting kind of thing in as much as you can’t go and see it again or anything but it’s still going on in my head and I’m still thinking about it. I think it’s important that there’s an element of complexity about work. I don’t think it’s lacking in lots of work but I think there’s a lot of work that tries to shortcut complexity by having a cunning idea or a funny idea or a shocking idea and I just find that really boring.
DH: Do you think your work lends itself to being anything other than your work? I mean do you see your work being used in a scenario outside of the context you intend it for, for instance; because there is something sculptural about what you do, could you see someone using as a plan for something or say a set design?
HW: Yeah, I mean after uni I did the artist placement thing with The Arts Council and I worked with urban designers and that was great because they’d give me these master plans of these things that they were doing and I’d do these sketches around them and start from what they had aesthetically and have a bit of fun with it. I did enjoy that and I do like applying the same kind of logic to make something a bit more real and tangible. It’s weird because I do think of all of these things in the drawings as real things that I’m trying to define. I can see one part of the drawing as being physically in front of another part and I can see that somehow there is a real world application for that line of enquiry but at the same time I think one of the things I like about a drawing as that you can make these rules up and then you could draw a sheep over it if you wanted to and completely destroy the whole thing. I like that play with, “It’s real but it’s not,” because it’s just a load of lines really at the end of the day.
DH: One of the things I was thinking, there’s a lot of the pre-design and sketch work that goes into games or set designs that is of this ilk; they’ll hire an artist that has a particular aesthetic feel. Would you ever lend yourself to that kind of thing?
HW: Absolutely, I think I’d really enjoy something like that. I think that’s the thing when you’re making something in a fine art context where you’ve got nothing particular to work towards except some strange progression which you kind of want to avoid a little bit as well; it’d be nice to be able to find some kind of real way of having a project to work towards, as a way of using my time that would be quite enjoyable.
DH: Often times it’s people who sketch like this, prolific sketching that companies like that are looking for, for inspiration because you can get so many ideas from one good sketch if there’s enough to that sketch. When I’ve looked at your work, I see a different perspective every time I look at them and there’s so many ways you could interpret the spaces described in your work. They’re like set designs, very tangible environments.
HW: I never really think of it in a narrative sense like that, there is definitely that sort of sensibility there in it; I like making it real in a way, I like the depth of field. I suppose I’ve come from a landscape interest, traditional landscape is never something I do really well, I’m much better at doing other stuff but in terms of how I look at the picture plane, I always look at things as a landscape. Sometimes that really irritates me and I think sometimes that’s why I try and work square because it puts me off from doing it and it helps me look at work in a different way. If I work in a format that is landscape I sometimes think I’m going to end up just doing loads of crazy landscapes, not that I have anything against doing it but it’s kind of a constituent part of my work that I like having when it comes out but it’s not something I want to be the major part of my work in a strange way.
Thinking about gravity and the work being a landscape, I think that’s why I like making work like that because it’s a way to start interpreting what’s there. I think when you’ve got just a load of weird shapes on a thing, it’s quite hard to start to look at that and take in what it is and what’s there. It’s not the only way of doing it but if you’ve got a load of shapes on something, it can just turn into lots of shapes randomly in a space; there’s no way into it and it doesn’t look like something you can start to decipher. So having a certain landscape or gravity to my work lets you in or helps you to be able to construct a picture a bit more.
For more on Adam, see his online gallery here Harry Watton Paintings
Words: Damian Huntley
Photography: Ryen Huntley