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Alumni Studio Visit: Jonathan Harkham (CERT 2008)

NYSS: Describe a typical day in studio.

Jonathan Harkham: I always start the day with a double shot of coffee and try for a consistent 8 hours of painting/drawing. These days I work from sunlight only, so my hours are always determined by sunset. I spend around 12 hours in the studio everyday give or take and when I’m not painting I work on setups and building stretchers/frames for both new and finished work. I try to be as self sufficient as possible, so when it gets dark, I follow all other creative pursuits that don’t require oil paint.

NYSS: Walk me through your process. What are some of the parameters or problems you set up for yourself within your work?

JH: I paint from observation most of the time. In the past, models and friends sat for me, but more recently, I have been working from still life setups because they are more accessible during this time of social distnace. I have been making extreme studies from inanimate objects such as crowded setups of colorful Japanese robots and sofubi (soft vinyl) toys. I always try to push the “looking” to a place where the entire setup comes to life without filtering in my own ideas. It is often enough to play with scale to initiate an exciting discovery. One that doesn’t detract from honest observation but also explores the notion of what it is we really see as opposed to what we imagine we see. This allows a massive reality to come into view sans the veil we usually keep in front of our eyes. Another really important studio practice is to never paint using artificial light which helps me cancel out as much interference and static as possible when exploring color.

NYSS: How has your practice changed during this time of social distance? Have you had to adapt to a new way of working or tried new materials?

JH: Not much in studio has changed in this time of “social distancing” except that I am almost exclusively working from still lives. I’m definitely looking forward to working with living, breathing humans again. And also materials take a little longer to arrive via the mail when you can’t run down to the local store. I just hope the local store is still there after all goes back to normal!

NYSS: What do you keep in the studio for inspiration? Reference material, artist monographs, music, fiction, found objects, foods etc…

JH: I’ve collected tons of art books over the years for inspiration, which seem to be the only way to access great works that permeate my mind and idea of painting. Punk rock is always a motivating social political and human theme here as well. The walls are covered in iconography and imagery of various creative heroes wether they be punk/ska bands or creative individuals that voice the notes of human experience. I derive a lot of inspiration from their delivery and momentum. The studio is also littered from wall to wall in old broken and beautiful Japanese toys I’ve collected over the years which I’m currently using to paint from in all my work.

NYSS: Do you listen to anything while you work?

JH: I listen to extremely fast, loud music when I work. Bands like Napalm Death, Subhumans, X-Ray Specs help drown out the outside world and create a kind of creative womb filled with adrenaline and energy that I need to sustain my focus. It tends to drive other people crazy over long stretches of time and that’s probably a good thing. I don’t think it’s good to get too comfortable in the studio if you want to keep things moving.

NYSS: How did studying at the New York Studio School influence your current studio practice?

JH: In many ways going to the New York Studio School woke me up as a human being. Before coming to the Studio School, I definitely had a lot of nonsensical ideas about what it meant to be a painter. One impactful experience as a student was my first encounter with Esteban Vicente, who was giving crits in the library to anyone who had the courage. He would really shout and let loose his passion and anger towards students who were not focused on the basic and fundamental idea of “looking” and this really shook me up for years afterwards and is most likely the reason it has become such an important part of my painting theory. My work ethic was really chiseled into place by the intensity of the Drawing Marathons and the massive transcriptions and other projects that seemed overwhelming at first. Besides the life long friendships and creative accessibility the school has facilitated for me, Graham Nickson pushed me to find solutions when I thought there was no way forward which has been an extremely powerful tool to have in this world. I will always be grateful for the time I spent learning from him and other artists there. New York Studio School really ignited a passion for paint in my soul.

NYSS: Are there any upcoming shows or projects on the horizon you would like to share?! And where can people see your work digitally?

JH: I’m currently working on building a more comprehensive website for people to see my work. But for now www.jonathanharkham.com has some work up. I am active on Instagram @jonathanharkham and @ghost_town_toys and I recently started uploading videos to my new YouTube channel: “Inside the Painters Studio.”

Snapshots From NYSS

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