This week, we visited artist Alan Harris in his studio, shared a cup of tea and discussed his philosophies, practice, creativity and the role of art in our society.
How did I become an artist?
I can be nothing else.
My mother gave me drawing very early and my father gave me music, we would play guitar and sing side by side at parties when I was seven.
The most important thing they gave me however was no expectation.
They simply let me be. Out of which I developed naturally, a mode of self-education, which was defined by me. A truth in me, which exerts itself all day everyday and on which occasions I heed.
There is nothing else I can be but myself. This is my job description.
What does your practice involve?
I call my practice lucid, simply.
It involves mastery, the learning of a skill. Such that in the moment of engagement with the material, the chosen medium, I become the conduit of pure lucid evocation flow, ebullient in the act of making.
Painting is delicious. Writing is rocket fuel. Making art is the deepest pleasure possible when one opens the self to it, transcendent over all things… even time.
The most potent part of my practice has been training myself to own the world. To switch the noise of the world off so that you can recreate it. I own the morning with a ritual set up which involves writing, sunshine, café breakfast, physical exercise, mediation and anything else that rears its head on the day. For a few hours I get myself absolutely on the page of my own creation and hear not the mental noise of what supposedly needs to be done. This is absolutely a crucial part of that which I own as my practice. For one must train oneself to own the moment. This I see, as the beginning of authenticity.
There is no gain in pain. Art is creativity is play. What else?
What art do you identify with?
My eyes are always open, my ears always hear. I am 90% sponge.
I am observing always for the glorious people and living expression all around. If there is art I will pay attention. If there is life I am engrossed. If the art speaks of itself or is transparent unto ego or commodity you may find I have left the building.
How do you know when a work is finished?
As much as you want a piece to be finished it may not even be close when you think it is. But there has to be some way to know right? No.
Free creation asks open questions so the answer is often discovery or pure creativity. You have to know what you are looking for. Whether the painting has a goal or an intention, an evocation or transmutation. There comes a time finally when it seems that the painting has been turned ON. You have to hold out, keep trudging until that happens.
I have a wall sized easel with many works upon it in various stages of completeness at all times. At random moments out of the corner of my eye might come a shadow or flare that answers the question of a piece where it lies. At times there has been the catalyst for uncovering authenticity. For discovering that which one knew but didn’t yet imagine. So time can be as important to free creativity as to deliberate creation.
Of course there is the other method where you set yourself a time limit and just go for it. There must be a firm resolve to finish the piece on time.
What is the role of the artist in Australian society?
A creative agency in a country such as this has to contend with narrow data bands, parochialism, sexism, racism, conservatism and most insidiously opportunism. Creativity is squeezed on all sides by conformity and commodity, run into constrictive grooves and usurped by economic rationalism. The result is a self congratulating mire of lowest common denomination. Having said that, I would think the truest role of an artist in this country is authenticity.
Yet all roles in such an environment call for the qualities of the artist just as life itself is art. Be fearless. Venture forth and create young Aussies.
Are artists entrepreneurs?
That is indeed a word I would use to describe the vocational mode of true creatives. For what is the essential mode of an artist? To copy? To derive? To be employed to be alive? There isn’t a man putting on a job for me.
So art is all about creativity. To create from nothing. Is this not entrepreneurial?
You gotta go get it. Be it. Make it. Create it. Own it. It’s yours.
Should Art be funded?
How many are going to make it on their own? Probably the same number as the baby turtles that make it to the water alive. Actually not even. So, yes, art should be funded. Yet there is a line between facility and results and the other end of the curve of encouragement, entitlement, a parasite of benevolent systems.
I must say though that the work of Create or Die as an on the ground running agency of the arts in this country is the best argument ever for a resounding yes to arts funding.
What does Create or Die mean to you?
It is true. Absolutely.
If you would like to see more of Alan’s work be sure to check out the upcoming group show at Create or Die on the 10th of September.
~ Interview by Amy Mills / Photography by Deb Morgan ~