NEXTGEN: Henrietta Harris

Our NEXTGEN series introduces a fresh crop of talent across a number of creative fields here in New Zealand. These are the aspiring young people – the Next Generation – who might well be tomorrow’s leaders in their fields. This week, we sit down for a chat with Auckland-based artist and illustrator, Henrietta Harris. Since graduating from AUT in 2009, Henrietta has very quickly made a name for herself as a solid illustrator with brilliant and unique hand-drawings and warped, painted portraits. Her work has appeared on t-shirts and in galleries around the world, whilst she has also worked with an impressive list of commercial clients.

Tell us about yourself – where did you grow up? What were you like as a kid?
I grew up on a vineyard in Kumeu (northwest of Auckland), my Dad was a winemaker. I enjoyed it immensely, we had a large property and we’d all help out picking grapes etc. I was super shy and anxious and weird but all creatives say that about themselves as children.

How did you get into art? Were you one of the kids that always drew?
I was always drawing and painting, I copied other people’s drawings a bit and tried my own take on them.

Growing up, how were you exposed to art?
My Mum was very encouraging, I think I would have got into it anyway as it has fascinated me from as early as I can remember but she definitely pushed me to create. We always had hundreds of books, and art on the walls and went to museums and galleries in the school holidays which all left lasting impressions on me.

Your style is unique – how did it develop and why illustration?
It’s hard to say how it developed, I’ve always been prolific in a range of different styles as the years have gone by, and latched on to what has worked best and interested me the most. I’ve never been that good at photography but am obsessed with human form so that’s probably why I settled on the sort of illustration I do now.

Where do you find references?
I either take my own photos or look in books, magazines, the internet, screenshots from movies, places like that.

Why do you think people interest you so much?
I think it’s an endless attempt to capture moments in time, the look of familiar emotions and expressions. I like the feeling of relating to art but you can’t put your finger on why. It may be the eyes being cast down, or an uncertain way of standing, I just love that stuff. Especially the distorted portraits I’ve been working on for the last year or so- when I am working on them they stop looking weird and take on a stillness which sort of makes more sense to me at the moment.

What are you working on right now?
Lots of editorial work for various magazines, some new skewed portraits, quick indian ink sketches, and I’ve just started getting requests for Christmas gifts of things like pet portraits which is always fun.

What are your goals for the next few years?
I’d love to exhibit somewhere overseas, anywhere, just so I have an excuse to travel. I sort of never really plan past the next few months and things have gone really well this year so I guess just try to get into markets overseas a bit more.

Who do you look up to in the art world? Are you an art fan? Who are your favourite artists?
Of course! I guess the thing that appeals to me most about my favourite artists is a sort of obsession behind their practice, an evident endless drive to keep creating. They include Thomas Campbell, Elliot Collins, Chad Wys, Lucian Freud, Sam Weber, Jillian Tamaki,  Christian Marclay, Anthony Cudahy, Sam Mitchell, Gavin Hurley, Van Gogh, David Hockney, Andrew Hem, Peter Ravn, Moebius, and heaps of designers and photographers as well. We’d be here all day if I listed them all.

Whats your view on the New Zealand art scene currently?
It’s great, not only is the new Auckland Art Gallery mind-blowing but there are also always amazing shows at Melanie Roger gallery, Tim Melville, Snakepit, and some cool artist-run spaces around, to name a few. It easily holds its own compared to anywhere abroad I’ve visited.

Do you think we appreciate art as a culture?
Well I can only speak for myself and the culture I know and surround myself with- absolutely yes. I doubt this will ever change as it is so important, especially in New Zealand. I’m using the very widest sense of the word ‘art’ here. 

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