harry hill at the idea generation gallery
20 July 2010 § 3 Comments
A couple of weeks back I snuck my way through the achingly trendy back streets of Shoreditch to visit an auction in aid of the Ray Lowry foundation. Manchester-born, Lowry began his career drawing for publications like Punch, OZ, NME and Private Eye creating a cult following for his illustrations and cartoons. Most famously he designed the memorable cover art work for The Clash’s seminal album, London Calling.
Hosted by the Idea Generation Gallery a mix of artists, performers and writers were invited to donate a work using the album sleeve as a starting point. Amongst these was a colourful acrylic painting by Harry Hill where the members of the Clash are represented by subterranean heads from which the ‘tree’ of Big Ben prospers in a barren desert and mountain landscape – fantastic, surreal, witty and yet straight to the point. I thought it brilliant.
At this juncture I need to explain that a couple years back I stumbled across his art tucked away in a gallery page on the Harry Hill web site. Sitting amongst links to the latest tour dates, merchingdice (sic) and video clips was a page featuring Hill’s paintings. I was instantly bewitched by their naïve style highly reminiscent of ‘outsider’ artists like William Hawkins, William Blayney and, most obviously Howard Finster.
I am a great fan of ‘outsider art’ (the term overlaps with folk/naïve/visionary art) and the highlight of last years exhibitions was, for me, the Museum of Everything. A free, curated show in a ramshackle venue, it brought together the best of ‘secret creativity by the unknowns of society’. Currently touring in Turin, I urge everyone who is able to jump on a plane and visit!
Clearly Hill is not an ‘unknown of society’ – except perhaps in Summerville Georgia, the hometown of Finster – but the term ‘outsider art’ has now tended to be applied to all those painting in a ‘folk’ or ‘naïve’ style. Humour has also played a big part in 20th century art from Duchamp’s original ‘joke’ – the fountain/urinal – via Manzoni’s sh*t, and Prince’s jokes. A good current example is David Shrigley, who is a quoted influence of Hill, and categorically proves that blatant humour is not a turn-off in the art world of today. The same folk and craft traditions have also snuck their way in to the contemporary art scene by way of other highly regarded artists like Grayson Perry, Simon Starling and Tracey Emin (I will write more on this in coming weeks). Ultimately though, Hill, whether painting as an ‘outsider’ or with post-modern humour, there is no reason that he should not be accepted as a quality artist and I personally would welcome the chance to view an exhibition of his work.
Oh, and by the way, in a ferocious auction bidding war, I managed to win the Harry Hill (and a Humphrey Ocean) – and all in a good cause!
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