Brisbane-based artist Andy Harwood, takes inspiration from the disparate worlds of graffiti and advertising. Like all university students, inebriation has played an important role in his life, even making its way into his new series, “Drunk: Struggling to Focus”, where his style has evolved from line focused sketches to washed-out brushstrokes and drifting colours.
After completing a Bachelor of Graphic design at the Queensland College of Art in 2004, Harwood co-founded S&M and Love Love Studios, both artist run initiatives in Brisbane and when we spoke to Harwood, he was in a nameless Ikea, shopping for frames and talking about beards. Which I suppose is exactly what you’d expect from an artist on a Saturday morning…
Hold on, I’m just at Ikea.
What are you picking up at Ikea?
I’m just getting some frames.
Is that for the Beard exhibition that you guys have going on?
Yeah but I’ve only got a few pieces in that show. The drawings. That should be pretty funny actually. It’s not going to be too serious in comparison to our other shows.
What made you guys want to do a beard show?
We just thought of it 6 months ago about when we were drunk one night…
Speaking of being drunk – I actually discovered you through some of the works from your 2009 exhibition “The Drunks Struggling To Focus.” Can you explain the theme for the works in that show and where that idea came from?
Well I really wanted to break away from the style of my older stuff which focused on line-work a lot. I wanted to do something new, so I was thinking of stuff that could help provoke that. Like really washy brush strokes. I was trying to have it stay with the drunken theme. Which meant that the viewer would kinda spin out from looking at one of the works.
Yeah, looking at these paintings is a bit disorientating.
As though you were drunk.
Yeah I thought it was brilliant. Did you have to do any research for it?
Other than drinking? Yeah I did a bit actually. I read up on alcoholism to get a little bit more background knowledge, and also some random books like Australia And The National Hangover, full of statistics and stuff.
What’s your art-making process like?
I just draw up my ideas with a biro actually, and just a little line work and then, once I’ve developed it a little bit further, I just do them on a bigger scale. Though there’s no line work in the actual finished piece itself. It’s not sketchy at all, just rough brush strokes. Sometimes if I might draw on the canvas or whatever it is in pencil first, and sketch from there. Other times I might just look at this little sketch I’ve done or even just make it up as I go.
How long does it take you to complete some of the work? You sometimes hear stories from people like Ben Quilty churning work out in a couple of hours…
Well, that particular style depends on whether you have pre-drawing done…but the actual painting itself will sometimes only take me half an hour. But sometimes you do that and then you put them up on your wall at home for a week and then you just keep looking at it. I might add a couple of bits, but generally I can’t. With that particular series I couldn’t really do that because I work when the paint is still wet. I put a color down, then I’ll put another, and really merge them together.
How do you know when the work is actually finished?
I think for me, I’m pretty present on the balance of the piece so if it’s giving the right light then I just know that it is done. If I’m not 100% sure, then I just leave it there for a week and then maybe go back to it, but usually, it’s the balance that’s the key. But it’s really finished once you put the varnish over the top because then it’s kind of hard to keep painting after that.
You mentioned you were at Ikea finding frames for your studio… People might not know that you are a co-founder of S&M and Love Love Studios, both in Brisbane. Can you tell us about how you came to do that?
Well I was head of the studio. That kind of started me out and I was just searching for another place, and we came across a really old house. It was a bit of a dump when we walked in, there were crayon drawings all over the walls. But we decided to move in. There were three of us; Lorna, who paints, and Ben, a photographer, and there was also another guy who did graphic design stuff. It was cheap rent and we just went in and did it up. Painted the walls, and yeah it’s come along well. So it’s just opportunistic really.
So you guys use that as a working studio, and also a gallery space?
Yeah I have my own studio and a gallery as well.
Do you have a structured amount of time that you spend in your studio working?
No I’d have to say I’m totally random, and I definitely wouldn’t do 9:00 to 5:00 because then you have to deal with traffic. There are some days though when I might spend 20 hours in there. A marathon session. But then, other times, I might not go in there for a week.
Can you tell us about what else you do with the studios? Are you involved in putting on the exhibitions?
Yeah, we do the creating and organizing and hanging of the works. We usually come up with the concept for a show, or people will approach us with ideas and coax us into them…Which is good to do, every now and then, but sometimes I just want to do my own stuff. It’s not really a monthly thing, more like ever 7 or so weeks. It’s always pretty cool.
So you treat your art as a full-time gig at the moment?
Yeah, I work in a cafe twice a week. That’s 12 hours a week making coffee. Yeah, free coffee, free food, pretty good!
Living the dream…
Living the dream, exactly.
There seems to be a trend of artists feeling like they have to move to Sydney or Melbourne to further their career. Do you feel that as a Brisbane artist you have to do that?
I think it’s fun to base yourself in Brisbane but it doesn’t hurt to go down to Sydney or Melbourne or go overseas. I’m going to Berlin mid next year for a few months, to meet new people and see new things and have a show somewhere else. There are quite a lot of new people who have moved to Sydney and Melbourne – it just seems pretty typical nowadays.
Have you got any exhibitions planned in Berlin?
Not yet but I have a friend who has been there so I’ll just have a chat with them. I hear there’s an artist squat arrangement, lots of cheap accommodation.
Yeah I’ve been to one. I went to Berlin and I checked out a couple of those and there are pretty amazing spaces. People pay sometimes only $1 on rent a week, which is pretty amazing.
Yeah totally. That’s what I’m aiming for.
What are the new works like that you’re doing?
I’m doing stuff that’s a bit more rough, with geometric shapes and stuff. And that will be debuting next year. I’ll have a solo exhibition, I’ll probably do it at the studio and create my own space. That should be good, everything is coming along well.
Andy Harwood will be exhibited as part of Pedestrian and ABSOLUT’s State Of The Art series next Thursday.