‘Artists can show the world who they are, what they think and how they feel in a single moment, in a single image.'
Philip Harris is a British Figurative artist. He first visited an art gallery at age 17, and a seed was planted. He has now been painting full-time for over 30 years. Highlights include winning 1st and 3rd prizes in the BP Portrait Award, numerous solo exhibitions and group exhibitions, including at the National Portrait Gallery. Philip has works in public collections, at the National Portrait Gallery, London, and The Jersey Museum, Channel Islands.
Where is your current studio? What would be your dream studio? I work from home and always have. Just a regular room that I have set up with daylight strip-lights and I use adjustable shelving rather than an easel. I've never really done things 'properly', my palette is just a margarine lid!. I live surrounded by woodland and nature so it makes for a nice calm environment. I really love working from home but I guess in an ideal world the 'studio' would be two or three times the size.
Do you prefer to work in silence or does certain music inspire you? I always have music on, BBC radio 6 to be precise or nowadays Spotify. I have fairly eclectic taste in music and am pretty open to influence and other peoples enthusiasm. What I really love is to hear each new generation coming through and making their mark. The conviction and ambition of the young is truly inspirational. Studio life can lead to isolation, how do you address this/ keep a balance? I have always been good at isolation, when lockdown started I was like 'I've got this, this is my game' but too much is still too much. Leading up to an exhibition can be hard going mentally, I get real tunnel vision and a little agoraphobic but because I know it's going to happen feel prepared for it. Lockdown and exhibitions aside, I have always participated in sport and am a keen club cyclist (New Forest Cycling Club).
What is your favourite/ least favourite part of the creative process? Favourite is probably right at the start of the painting when I go from 'nothing' to 'something' on the canvas or alternatively near the end of a painting when everything starts to click together and I realise that the original idea is going to be achieved.
Least favourite is definitely the long middle part of the process when I am building layers of paint. At this stage the work always looks bad, feels hard and I wonder why Iever started it. Do you have a personal mantra or quote which serves to motivate you? When I was younger and highly idealistic I would say to myself and others that I was really going to give it my best shot at making 'great', sincere and authentic art and that if I failed in the attempt then I wouldn't be too hard on myself. At 55, I can look in the mirror and honestly say that I have done my best, if things aren't going so well I always try to remember that.
How has your style evolved and what contributed to the changes? After the first few years as a professional (1986-93) my work has evolved very slowly really, barely noticeable unless you look at my older work next to the new.
Nature versus nurture- do you believe you have inherited abilities from creative parents, do you have creative siblings? Can you identify environmental factors or influences which led to your choices or directions? My family was and is not artistic at all, I never visited an art gallery, went to the theatre or to a concert until I was in art college. I slightly envy those who grew up with creativity at the heart of their lives but that certainly wasn't my experience. I think for me as a small child I just liked drawing and had or developed a little kernel of talent. As a very shy boy, lacking in confidence I really noticed when I was then praised for something I could do and others couldn't. That's really all some children need. Ultimately when I left school I didn't know that you could be an artist but found my way to art college.
Is there something you regard as essential to your preparation or process? Calmness.
Detail a moment which was the highlight for you, thus far. I think being in the exhibition 'painting the century' at the NPG in 2000 was a highlight for me. I know it's rather egocentric but it just felt like my painting 'Two Figures Lying in a Shallow Stream' had become a little bit of history. Exhibiting next to Munch, Picasso, Beckmann, Grosz, Bacon, Warhol and Freud was very validating..
If you could time travel, what advice would you give the younger you, regarding pursuing your artmaking? It would be great to say nothing but to be really honest I would probably say 'be a little bit more pragmatic, focus on the business side as well as the art side '. The younger me wouldn't have listened though! How does your work respond to social trends? I'm generally a late adopter of all things technological but am trying to respond to the new reality of how art is seen. The reality that all artists now face is that the vast majority of people who see our work now will see it on a small, lit screen and spend about two seconds looking at it (at best). I have to ask myself if there is really any point in continuing to make incredibly complicated,10 ft wide paintings that take a year to make. In response I am currently working on new ideas which will use social media and the internet more actively/purposefully.
What do you hope to convey through your work? That's a big question but I suppose fundamentally it's about making a deeper and different connection with people than I can do by talking.