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Glimmers of hope

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Henrietta Harris is a full time artist in Auckland. She takes some time to talk about capturing shifts in young lives, a memorable response to her work, and Frank Ocean's album cover.

What themes do you pursue?

Ideally, I aim to move people with my paintings, to evoke some sort of emotion. One reoccurring theme in my portraits is portraying a sort of coming-of-age moment in a young life, the instant before having to experience something potentially life changing.

I did a series years ago where I painted people in superhero masks looking scared which is a theme I’ve riffed on for years. I like my paintings to show dream-like states, suspensions in time, uncertainty, anxiety, with a glimmer of hope here and there.

Who are you biggest influencers?

In terms of my paintings, layout, and subject matter I think I am more influenced by photography. Three contemporary photographers who spring to mind are Osma Harvilahti, Viviane Sassen, and Harley Weir, all of which probably earn most of their money doing fashion-y things but have really interesting personal practices too.

A select few favourite artists are Vilhelm Hammershøi, Michaël Borremans, Andrew Hem, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Areez Katki, Erica Van Zon, Gavin Hurley…

What’s the most memorable response you’ve had to your work?

Once someone emailed me and said his wife had terminal cancer and she asked him to print out my paintings and put them around her bed so she could look at them in her final days. I don’t really have the words to process how that makes me feel though.

What research do you do?

I listen to audiobooks while I paint, sometimes 2 or 3 a week, and lots of podcasts too. I’m certain this helps subconsciously with ideas and themes. I also read a lot of books, go to exhibitions, scroll the internet for hours, travel when I can – I think the most important thing is not to limit yourself to only researching your own field of work.

I used to fill sketchbooks up all the time but I don’t really do that do much these days, unless it’s for a particular project.

What project are you working on now?

I just finished up a solo show at Melanie Roger Gallery and immediately started work on my next solo show at Robert Fontaine Gallery in the States, and will be starting portrait paintings again. It’s in October and I’m still in the initial stages of it but there isn’t actually that much time before I need to have everything done by. Two solo shows in one year is pretty crazy but I absolutely can’t complain! I’m also doing the odd commission or editorial work around working on it.

What is your dream project?

Painting an album cover for Frank Ocean.

In 5 words, describe the colour yellow to someone who is blind.

Stick your hand in butter.

Where were you 3 hours ago?

Rehab pilates.

What’s something your brain tries to make you do and you have to will yourself not to do it?

It tries to make me throw my phone onto the motorway if I’m walking along Symonds St bridge, I never will though. Take that, brain.


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