Harry Pye is a painter and writer based in London, UK.
You are known as a painter but you also publish magazines and blogs, write, make music and often collaborate with other artists. How do you connect the various strands of your practice together?
Harry: “I love painting either on my own or in collaboration with friends. Drawing, painting and writing are just things I discovered as a child and never grew out of. It’s just what I do. I probably started making my own comics and magazines when I was young because I wanted to make new friends and talk to people who were doing interesting things. I guess doing my blog “The Rebel” is a good way of getting to know people but the main reason I do it is that it cheers me up. Writing lyrics is a very new thing. A few years back my friend Julian Wakeling played me some songs he’d written and I asked if he would help me with an idea for a song I had about Stephen Lawrence, which he did. Then I wrote some words for the singer-songwriter Mikey Georgeson. And now I’ve collaborated on a ten track album with Francis Macdonald which we’re both really proud of. Seven of the ten tracks are actual songs sung by Francis. The other three tracks feature me talking about things like my love for various things. Mojo magazine gave our record 4 out of 5 and said it was “Odd but good” which made us both laugh.”
Your paintings are bright and playful but to me there is also something very ‘human’ and rather philosophical about them. Where does your inspiration come from? Why do you choose to often place yourself at the centre of your work?
Harry: “John Lennon only ever wrote about himself. He said he knew himself better than anyone else and that his songs were like postcards to the world. Sometimes my paintings have been a bit like postcards. A lot of people say they like my paintings because they make them laugh. Some people are moved by them and some people just sneer and say “anyone could do that.” I always find walking round the National Gallery inspirational there are certain other artists like Bonnard whose paintings always give me ideas. As a child I was very influenced by Mad magazine, Monty Python, Warhol & Lou Reed, Peter Cook, and various Indie labels such as 2 Tone and Stiff records. I’ve also always been a fan of Debuffet, Matisse and Picasso and all the usual suspects. I like the way some outsider artists paint what happen to them in the same way we used to do at primary school. Everything is an influence really – sometimes you see a really annoying exhibition and you’re inspired to be as different from that artist as humanly possible. Another thing that sticks in my mind is a conversation I once had with the artist Davida Hewlett. I told her that a project I’d done had left me feeling embarrassed and exposed. She replied “Embarrassment is good for the soul” I think there’s some truth in that.”
You currently edit ‘the Rebel’ Magazine, what was the thinking behind starting this publication?
Harry: “I started making a photo-copied zine called The Rebel when I was about 11. I interviewed artists and pop stars. I stopped doing it around the time of my GCSEs. When I left Art School I started doing new publications. I felt like I had no control over my life and having a little publication to concern myself with was quite healing. The Rebel was reborn as a blog many years ago. I tell people it’s named after the film starring Tony Hancock. And basically it’s just a way of talking to creative people about their projects and doing a bit of self promotion.”
It seems to me that your approach to the ‘art world’ has been to do your own thing, from organising shows to publishing, rather than wait for recognition/anyone to tell you what to do. Do you think that’s the best approach for artists, to create and retain that freedom and independence?
Harry: “I don’t know - maybe freedom is a state of mind? Basically I left Art School in 1995 and did a fanzine for 5 years. In 2000 (a friend I’d known since foundation), Gemma Shedden was part of an artist run space in Paris called Glassbox. She liked my zine so she invited me to put on a show there. When I returned to London, Luke Gottelier (who was one of the artists I’d put in the Paris show and interviewed for my zine) invited me to join a collective called “The Bart Welles Gang”. Luke, Francis Upritchard and Jamie King found a massive 3 storey building in London Fields. For a few years it became a squat/trendy art space. I organised group shows of other people’s work for the next 5 years. I started making my own paintings when I was about 30. It was Jasper Joffe who encouraged me to exhibit my paintings and have a solo show. My friend Cuong Sam (who I’d met while working at Tate Britain) also helped a lot and did things like set up the harrypye.com website. Artists make the paintings and records that they want to see or hear. In my experience, artists are misfits who don’t know how to stop what they’ve started. To be an artist you have to learn to be confident about your own madness. I think if you throw your hat in the ring by putting on a show or something there’s always someone who sees what you’ve done and says: “Hey, nice hat, we should do something together” and one thing leads to another.”
What are you plans for the future?
Harry: “Gordon Beswick and myself want to make more films and You Tube videos. One of the prints we made is in a group show called Connect/Disconnect, curated by Sarah Jeffries that takes place at The Point this September. We’ve also made a start on a film about Jean Debuffet that we’d both love to get that finished one day. I’d love to write more lyrics and doing more spoke word pieces with Francis Macdonald. My friend Rowland Smith and I have made a series of new paintings we really like that – hardly anyone has seen them yet. On the 6th of September there’s a group show I’ve organised opening at 64a Gallery in Whitstable, Kent. The show is called “By The Sea” and it features contributions from people I like such as Agnieszka Zapala, Billy Childish, August Kunnapu, Peter Doig, Beverly Daniels, Charlie Day, and Harry Adams. I’m also donating a work to the National Brain Appeal. My friend Eva Tait helps organise a great event at The Oxo Tower every year called “Letter in Mind”. For £85 you buy an envelope with an artwork on (not knowing who the artist is) the money goes to the National Brain Appeal who do all sorts of wonderful things for people in need.”
“Bonjour” the debut album by Francis Macdonald & Harry Pye has just been released on Shoeshine Records. Prints of collaborative paintings made by Gordon Beswick and Harry Pye are currently on display at The Crypt of St Mary Le Bow Church. You can find out more about Harry at http://www.harrypye.com.