ArtAttack sat down with London-based, American artist Raymond Salvatore Harmon (of whom we are now proud collectors!) to learn about his latest gripping work, ‘Elliptical Confinement’, hear his expert tips for young London artists and generally take in his vast art world wisdom.
ArtAttack: What is your earliest memory of art, and what made you decide to pursue it as a career?
Raymond Salvatore Harmon: When I was in kindergarten I would steal a tiny bit of the soft grey clay that the class had a bucket of and keep it in my pocket. After awhile, I figured out that you could draw on the back of the green crinkly vinyl bus seats with the clay. I drew a picture to impress a girl and a jealous boy snitched on me and I had to go to the office. I think that was likely the point, standing there listening to the principal explain why what I had done was bad, that I realized I was going to be doing this for the long run.
AA: Like me, you’re an American in London. Can you share that story?
RSH: London is great. I was doing live video performances with an orchestra on tour across Europe in 2007 when I met my future wife, fell in love, and upended my existence in Chicago and came to the UK. It’s a great town; I feel rather at home here. Something about the air and the way of living suits me. Particularly, that it hardly snows in the winter.
AA: As an adopted Londoner, what are your thoughts on breaking into the art scene here? Any advice you can give to young artists aspiring to make it.
RSH: I spent the first few years in London just hiding out in Hackney and working on painting. A real sweating needs to take place in terms of personal development before any progress is made. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I stepped out into the public with my work in any meaningful way.
I think that each metropolitan city has an art world that needs to be navigated. As much as the life of an artist is romanticized as all studio and creation, the practicalities are that in order to be successful an artist needs to engage with the art world of a major city. Going out to galleries, inviting people for coffee, putting up with studio visits. I am a recluse here in London so it takes me a lot of mental energy to go out to openings and be in the public, but its part of the job.
AA: Let’s talk politics. As your Facebook friend, I know you have definite opinions and aren’t afraid to share them! What are your thoughts on the importance of expressing political/social views through art?
RSH: My work is abstract so people tend to perceive it as apolitical. But I have very strong political opinions and my work is greatly informed by the events going on in the world today. I think that work that is overtly political is too obvious, too propaganda, to be effective. By bringing that level of political engagement to your work and yet allowing the work to be its own experience it makes the work that much stronger.
AA: This brings us to your latest piece, a digital immersion based around data visualization of mass incarceration rates in the States. What can you tell us about this and when/how can we see it?
RSH: I was asked to be part of this amazing group show Geometrix at Curator’s Office in Washington D.C.. The gallerist, Andrea Pollan, put together an incredible lineup of 60 artists over three galleries. I wanted to do something that was a part of a new larger scale project I am currently working on using various datasets to generate 3D digital objects/environments and matching those with textures built of actual paintings.
‘Elliptical Confinement‘ is a 3D space generated out of the data sets of incarceration rates in the United States over the past decade. The work exists as an interactive painting on the gallery’s website, making the website part of the gallery space itself. In the gallery there is a tablet device for users to experience the piece, but the piece can be accessed by anyone just via the web.
It has become increasingly important to me that my work is experienced by more than just a handful of collectors. I wanted to bring attention to the scale of mass incarceration in the US through an aesthetic space. A sense of proportion within a field of colour and gesture that represents human confinement and the systems that create that confinement.
AA: Anything else you have coming up in 2016 we should know about?
RSH: I am playing with the idea of a solo show of some 3D folded paintings sometime this year. Working on a much larger digital project that ‘Elliptical Confinement‘ is one chapter of, hoping to spend some time in Portugal before the end of the summer.
One thing that will be happening is the launch of the Betaculture Art grant. It is a series of micro grants I am giving out to artists through my foundation Betaculture. Hoping to have the application form online in the next few weeks with a springtime announcement of the winners.
– India Irving
View his latest work, ‘Elliptical Confinement‘ HERE.