Brick Lane may seem like a photographer’s dream, but the challenge is in discovering interesting things to capture which haven’t already been photographed by every other tourist with a camera! Huge standout pieces are startlingly beautiful, but my imagination is captured on a smaller scale by chance compositions such as this combination of paint, advertising and graffiti tagging; dwarfed by high-profile street artworks it comes together seemingly unintentionally to create an almost pop-art contemporary work.
Laying on the grass on a sunny day at a festival, I took this photograph of my sister Holly as she danced standing above me. The angle entirely distorts the scale of her actual physique and although naturally tall, it portrays her height as positively monumental. The odd angle somehow expresses her figure and clothing in an almost landscaped manner; undulations of folds appearing somewhat mountainous. The fact that her face is partially obscured only adds to the emphasis of her stance and the vibrancy of the bright colour juxtaposition.
Anyone who has visited Dungeness will remember it by its flat and barren nature. This photograph, taken on the beach through a warm mist, exemplifies the sense of isolation inherent in the seaside town. The parallel stacking of the horizontal linear marks created by the variation in the density of the sand creates an entirely abstract element from which the stark verticals of the windsurfing kart protrude dramatically. The absence of colour in the image adds to the sense of desolation and enhances the geometric nature of the composition.
I am always fascinated primarily by circumstantial compositions which encapsulate a moment, or which seem to have been created or placed by an unseen hand. This photograph, taken at the Blinc Festival in Conwy, wales, captures a hooded figure silhouetted against one of the exhibited pieces around the town. Aside from the pleasing aesthetics (the alternate black against the deep purple and curves against lines portraying an almost space-age like imagery), the connotations struck me as interesting; the attitudes which fuel our modern day witchhunt against ‘hoodies’ imbue this image with a sinister undertone (silhouetted hoodie/unseen face), yet the reality was, of course, entirely different.
Taken in a side street just off Brick Lane, this image captures the humour inherent in much of the artwork around that area. As well as high-end, large scale pieces such as the giant stork, there are hundreds of small individual pieces which encapsulate the tone of the area; figures and characters dotted around, reappearing in various guises and situations and becoming almost envisionings of living creations. In this image there appears a blurring of the boundaries between the real and the imagined. I see the walking man and the graffiti as intrinsically entwined; both part of the fabric of the streetscape and both characters in my created image.
My favourite type of image is one such as this; created by chance, by a combination of weather, nature and human impact and resulting in a beautifully startling moment. As the winter snow started to melt, I spotted this image, the tarmac underneath revealed to create the image of a gaping mouth, the overall effect reminiscent of a Mr Men character. I am a big fan of Andy Goldsworthy and his landscape interventions which produce art in nature using materials found nearby. However, I like to take this one step further and not intervene at all, but to discover; to look carefully and find unusual and artistic compositions such as this which are naturally occurring.
The contrast between the threat of the sharp rose thorns and the purity of the white snow scattered on its tips instinctively brings to my mind the fairytale stories of my childhood; the ever simplistic contrast of good and evil is reflected not only in the materialism of sharp and soft but also in the monochrome tones of the image. Backed by a grey winter sky the traditional beauty of the rose has died; turning the power struggle on its head, the snow, with its seemingly gentle demeanour, has succeeded in destroying the flower’s primary function. The story which unravels challenges assumption and prejudice and forces us to re-assess traditional ideas of beauty.
Somewhat unsurprisingly the area around Piccadilly is not one of my usual haunts; the Ritz and the Wolseley being just a tad out of my price range, and even further out of my interest range. Being more of a Camden girl myself, were it not for the lure of David Harkins’ recent exhibition at Bury Street I may never have stepped past that territory of the super-rich, to discover that just beyond is hidden a veritable wealth of artworks, bustling for space in the innumerable galleries which line the back lanes.
I recently found myself squeezed amongst a lively throng inside a single element of this compound treasure trove; a beautifully intimate gallery at 3 Bury Street. Artist, actor, and probation officer, David Harkins’ work is an immediate delight to the inquisitive eye. In terms of physical scale his pieces are relatively small, and so when hung create an astounding aesthetic of contrasting and collaborating imagery spread across the wall like a huge, woven patchwork quilt. A tapestry of individual stories.
Indian Mathematics is instantly reminiscent of Miro, with its deep swirling blues which begin to swallow the splashes of colour above; seemingly dissolving before your eyes into the canvas. The titles add another dimension to the paintings, leading your senses towards a subconscious aspect you may not have explored; their playful suggestiveness mirroring the dreamlike theme running through pieces such as An Admission and Egyptian Headstand, where dominant forms and intricate paintwork create a weave of storytelling. A distinctive thread running through the series is the horizontal line. Drawing the eye across the canvas it moves toward the continuation of the story, past the boundaries of the surface. Within the abstract pieces this linear tool conjures landscape, providing spatial forms which determine a perspective focus for the viewer and work together with other patterns such as the mountainous triangular shapes in Crowns, or Emergency Ponchos.
Turning around the room and stretching to place my line of sight above the mass of heads at the opening night, I began to discern a sense of the time spent creating this series of works. A period of exploration seems to come across, of pushing the boundaries of experience and comfort. Indeed, speaking to a fellow observer I was told that David’s previous work is far more abstract. His use of figuration and narrative in this show mark a new period of experimentation where monochrome abounds and materials in collage writhe in and out of the 2D boundaries. However, although the meditative narrative may draw us through lighthearted stories, there are also explicit elements of darkness. The use of the black and white palette and mono-printing technique strips away the detail of other works and returns us to a raw, expressive language. Here the lines reappear, possibly suggesting the bars of a prison in a reference to David’s work as a probation officer. The figures which feature are also noticeably alone and sometimes with explicitly negative emotions, as in The Anxious Man, an astute capturing of melancholy tension.
David Harkin’s art seems to draw influence from a unique collaboration of various styles. A strong tribal element runs throughout; bold, powerful, colourful and symbolic, yet there are plenty of moments of quiet tenderness, delicately intertwined with the understated storytelling of a thinker, a seer. Humour abounds. Tongue-in-cheek motifs use the force of simple production and dark satirical undertones to create powerful impact in works such as A Saint in Wolf’s Clothing. I clearly wasn’t the only one to have been absorbed into David’s brushstrokes and collages. As the stickers flew on and the works flew off the walls, I thanked my lucky stars I had been quick enough to grab Crowns, my first (and undoubtedly favourite) Christmas present of 2012. Pressing my way through the crowd towards the exit, like Indiana Jones having acquired his fought-for treasures, I knew this would not be the last I saw of David Harkins. I think I can guarantee the same for you.
For more information on David’s work see his website here
Photographs by Alex Bamford