Henrietta Harris is a New Zealand based artist and illustrator known for her incredibly beautiful and often distorted portraits, Aside from her portraiture, she creates beautiful black and white cloudy landscapes of glaciers and mountains. A quick look at Harris’s Instagram or website shows an incredible technical proficiency that cannot be denied.
While based in Auckland, Harris has had a large international success. Just to name a few, Harris has had a solo show at the Robert Fontaine Gallery in Miami, was featured at Art Basel in 2014, as well as having work in a group show at Gallery Hanahou in New York. Harris’s work can be seen today at a group show with PRISMA collective at the Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco, and she has paintings available at the Robert Fontaine Gallery and the Melanie Roger Gallery.
INTERVIEW WITH HENRIETTA HARRIS
CONOR (HIGHLARK): Hey Henrietta! Thank you so much for doing this. I’ve always been pretty blown away by your technical skills, and am wondering where you first got your start in the arts?
HENRIETTA HARRIS: Thank you! What I always think of as a ‘start’ was making gig posters for friend’s bands, it was a great way of getting my work out there and doing interesting stuff. It led to a bunch of other music stuff (single/album covers etc) which led to more things- it seemed to be a good way of experimenting while I was playing around with different styles and ideas. After I finished art school I gradually dedicated more and more time to actually becoming technically better at drawing, and especially, painting.
CONOR: In your recent series ‘FIXED IT’ you make your style of beautiful, incredibly optically realistic portraits but then cover the faces with very thick, pastel paint. Where did the idea to cover the faces come and what is its purpose?
HENRIETTA: I feel like I’ve always had the same ideas, I’m just better now. I used to spray-paint over the eyes or use different mediums over watercolour or pencil- I just love deleting and obscuring and doing unexpected things to portraiture. I really knuckled down taught myself (well, it’s on-going) to use oils at the beginning of last year mainly to cohesively carry out ideas I couldn’t with watercolour and the FIXED IT series was one I’d been wanting to do for a long time. It just feels like something I have to carry out, working really hard on something to show I can, but its existence is then fleeting.
CONOR: You’ve had your work featured in some pretty incredible galleries and shows – the Robert Fontaine Gallery in Miami, Art Basel, and the Atsukobarouh Gallery in Tokyo – how did you first start getting your work in shows?
HENRIETTA: Just from people asking me to exhibit with them I guess? I used to put on art shows in Auckland myself or with friends, often in bars or other non-gallery spaces, just a mish-mash of ideas which I try and not do so much now although I often can’t help it still…
CONOR: As an Auckland native, how do you think the New Zealand art scene has affected you as an artist?
HENRIETTA: I’m not sure really, I have a gallery here now (Melanie Roger Gallery) and think my work fits with the other artists well but before that I sort of felt like I could do the work I do anywhere. I’ve always worked in solitude and don’t always make it to art openings here- basically I don’t know! I just do my work and scroll instagram.
CONOR: You recently did a pretty awesome series for the Auckland Zoo – a series of paintings of animals titled Strangely Beautiful Australia. How did that all come about?
HENRIETTA: I have an illustration agent here in NZ (International Rescue) and the Zoo approached them. I haven’t actually seen it up yet but have seen some cute photos of my nephews posing with the Lace Monitor and Spiders.
CONOR: I first began seeing your work several years ago when I saw a painting of yours from 2014 titled ‘Four Stars’, which remains one of my favorite paintings. The work – like many of your paintings from 2014 – shows another incredibly realistic portrait that has been distorted. Where did the idea for this kind of portraiture come from?
HENRIETTA: All I can remember from the process of coming up with those works was doing a poster for Ariel Pink in 2011, and deciding the original sketch of him singing was too boring for how batty his music is so I did a glitch over the eyes, and it looked so cool I experimented with that and smushed the face more and more. I’m glad you like it!
CONOR: Thank you so much again for sitting down to do this – and what can we expect from you and your art down the road?
HENRIETTA: Maybe some fashion things, more FIXED IT’s, not too sure actually! This year isn’t as planned out as previous years have been so I’m just taking each day as it comes which is nice. And trying to get better at oil painting.