I saw Harry Underwood's work in person at The Arts Company gallery in 2012 and I have admired it ever since. You can imagine my delight then when he agreed to do an interview for the blog. Harry is a Nashville-based, self taught painter who, according to his website, "describes his artwork as 'illustrated poetry'." Born in Miami and raised near Homestead, FL, Harry also lived in New Orleans and Austin before settling in Nashville. His work has been shown in France and the United Kingdom and one of his paintings appeared in the 2013 documentary "Inventing David Geffen".
Check out his artwork and interview below!
How did you become an artist? Is creating art something you always felt you must do?
I always drew pictures as far back as I can recall. During my teens I began to notice that I didn't fit into any of the kind of plans people were making. I was thrown out of school and ended up in work I had no interest doing. I always made art and wrote about things.
What can you tell us about the pieces you're currently working on? What's next for you and your work?
I'm making more paintings. I'm studying different ideas I've been getting and I'm looking for new arrangements of color. I will continue making things similar to what I have done and I am always looking for changes to introduce.
I'm always very interested to know exactly how people got their start at something. How did your first professional exhibition come about?
I was installing ceramic tile and painting houses during the days while painting pictures in the early mornings and evenings. I had a booth in an antique mall that I'd filled with old sinks and objects from job sites where I worked. I hung some paintings in there, then people began contacting me to suggest I bring them to Nashville. I put paintings in a shop called the Artful Dog in Berry Hill, then I did some "Untitled" Art Group shows that introduced me to the Plowhaus Artist's Coop where I had my first solo show in a gallery setting.
On your website, it says that you started painting in 2001 and had your first professional solo exhibit in 2005. What were those years when you were painting, but not exhibiting professionally like?
I attempted painting several times when I was younger during the 80s and 90s. It wasn't until 2000 or so that I found the style and techniques I work with now. The transition from my former employment was a difficult experience. It took 4 or 5 years for the art to pay my bills, and my personal life was not very great then. My mind was preoccupied with making the art and clearing away the distractions. I had a drinking habit that became worse when I was having to leave my art each day to go to another job. I was drinking on those jobs and I was miserable. It had taken my entire life up to that point to find a vehicle for self expression and once I had located it there was no way I felt I could be doing anything else.
Were you actively seeking public recognition as an artist or were you painting purely for enjoyment? What made you decide to get into the art world?
I paint for the enjoyment, I don't remember deciding to make art. The money I earn goes directly into the artwork allowing me to pursue it. I don't feel like I am involved in the art world. I have been successful at making time for myself to create my art. I think that's what most artists want to achieve. I don't leave home very often except to ride my bicycle or have dinner with my wife. I didn't know any other artists before I entered the gallery scene so I had no examples to follow.
What can you share about your creative process? For example, do you always work from photographs, do you plan out each piece precisely before starting, do you have to listen to certain music while working, etc?
I usually know what I'm going to create based on what I've finished. Some larger paintings have appeared to me in my mind in a hazy detail where I can distinguish the plans for color and structure. I think that if there's a sense of it in mind like that then I'm usually confident it will work. Many pictures don't work out and the disappointment of losing weeks or months of work is difficult to bear. My paintings are composites that rely on photographs to build scenes. Many of the human forms I produce today are assembled from multiple images. It's the process of thinking and planning that I'm interested in. In my work there's also the period that I perform the writing. When a painting is finished I usually feel lost unless I've already began planning another. The body of work I have made so far gives me a lot of satisfaction. My paintings contain my life and my identity.
I like "Cruising with Ruben and The Jets" by The Mothers of Invention. I don't have to listen to music in order to work. I use it to block sounds from my neighborhood. Sometimes I watch movies while I'm working or I listen to old Radio dramas like Suspense and Dimension X.
What is your dream collaboration? (could be with another artist, a company, a musician, etc.)
If a company wanted to use an image that I've made I would consider it. I don't want to work with other people. I'd like for things to stay as they are.
If you could try your hand at any other job for a day, what would it be?
I don't have any other ambitions right now.
Do you have a "dream" collector? Someone that if you found out they had bought something you created, would make you ecstatic.
No, I haven't got any in mind. The collectors are like friends who never speak to me.
Where do you find inspiration?
I think about the events in my past and the few places I've been to. I examine life and I ride my bicycle.
Is there a question that you always hope you'll get asked in interviews, but then never do? For example, do you have a burning desire to tell the world what your favorite type of cereal is, but have just never gotten the chance.
I have a lot of opinions that never come up in interviews.
To read more about Harry Underwood visit his website here