Cutting through all of life

A talk with artist Samuel Harrison.

I noticed that you often hide the visage of your subjects. What does it mean for you?

It is only in my latest shows that I have in fact covered my figures. Up until then I have dealt directly with the human form. After working with the human body for a decade the covering was an exciting new development which came about when I made a veiled reclining figure which references Holbein’s dead Christ. Covering the figure removed it from a set time and place. I felt like I was able to view the figure in a new light. Getting trapped in repeating myself is always something I want to avoid. These works feel completely fresh and contemporary.

You used sheep blood for your work “Akeldama”, 2018. Why this specific animal? Is it for his cross-cultural specific spiritual meaning? Could you tell me a bit more about the relationship between your practice and spirituality?

I used sheep’s blood primarily because it was available at the time. The work, “Akeldama”, which means ‘field of blood’, was scheduled to open a week after the Christchurch shooting. The morning of the shootings my dealer called to say the show had to be postponed a few months due to the gallery leaking. Had this not been the case this show would have been far too confronting even though the work was conceived and produced months before. The blood is a symbolic motif for life and death, regardless of which animal was used. For me the blood has no great cross-cultural spiritual meaning. It simply cuts through all of life in one way or another.

“Veiled Male Figure”, 2018, seems to me like a non-differentiated body hidden under the fabric. Why did you choose to attribute to it a gender by its title? And why it is a male body?

There is nothing particularly complicated in this. Throughout history the male and female figures have been clearly portrayed. Underneath the coverings it is simply a male figure. I have covered both male and female figures. When I made this standing veiled male figure, I also made a standing female figure. In our current environment in which male and female gender distinctions are being blurred, these works felt entirely relevant.

I see many references in your work. I’m thinking about some work from Hans Holbein, Aristide Maillol, or even Francis Bacon. How do you consider Art History in your practice?

History of art is of huge interest to me and undoubtedly influences my practice. As time goes by of course the more my own voice comes to the fore and reflects my own ethos.

If you had to save one artwork from the destruction of the world, what would you save and why?

This question is beyond me I’m afraid. Worldwide I simply couldn’t pick out any one artwork. I’m pretty obsessed with so much of the world’s art. If you are meaning which one of mine I would save, I still couldn’t choose one as they all have an important place. I definitely know the ones I would not save.

What are you working on at the moment?

At present I’m in the middle of building my studio. I have two shows booked for this year, one in Auckland which will be predominantly the veiled figures, and the other in Christchurch dealing with the internal anatomy.

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