Paddy Hartley – Driven by concept
Paddy Hartley’s artwork is concerned with subjects not conventionally explored with textiles. A constant theme is the alteration of the human body, either by choice or circumstance; more specifically, the use of steroids by body builders, the ethics of human cloning and injuries acquired through conflict. His medium has been varied and over the course of 20 years, he has worked in a range of disciplines, including installation art, assembled objects, ceramics, fashion and digital embroidery.
Paddy’s work has been seen at The Museum of Arts and Design New York, The Victoria & Albert Museum and the Science Museum in London. His signature Face Corset designs have been showcase in a number of leading magazines including AnOther Magazine and Vogue.
In our interview with Paddy, he discusses how embroidery was not originally his ‘go-to’ discipline and how he feels categorization of his work is detrimental.
Material and process
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Paddy Hartley: Appropriateness. Always appropriateness with any material and process based on the concept or idea you are working with. I never imagined I would ever work in fabric or embroidery until I realised it was the most appropriate process for the uniform work I make telling the stories of WW1 servicemen and the facial injuries and surgery they lived with.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
In the late 1970’s when I was a pupil at Primary School, I remember one specific day very clearly. Queueing with my class to go for dinner and on entering the dining hall, we all saw the beginnings of an enormous mural taking shape on a large wall running the full height and length of the hall. Over the coming days and weeks, the artists painting the mural would work when none of the pupils were around, painting grey shapes which would emerge and eventually be defined into comic book characters. The fun part being trying to guess what, or who these shapes were going to turn into. It’s my earliest memory of being inspired by something of an artistic nature and it’s had a huge influence on how I make my work. That sense of anticipation of what is coming next in the creative process fired my imagination and it is something I like to try and build into my work which I allow to evolve and have no fear of revisiting and reworking years later.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I was always drawing as a child and making things, be it model aircraft, Bobby arrows, survival kits or airbrushed scenes of space… completely made up! My art teacher at school encouraged me to go to art college, which then took me to university to study ceramics and then later an MA in Ceramics, after which I never touched clay again. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the material but didn’t want to be shackled to it and it took a long time to be taken seriously by my peers as a ceramic artist, minus the ceramic part. Every job I’ve taken along the way has had some creative element, be it as a curator, educator, tutor or practitioner.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
These vary depending on the concept of the work and what I’m trying to communicate. It’s true to say that I do have my favoured materials in regards the fashion design work I produce, but this work is driven more so by material and their dynamics. The embroidered uniform work is entirely driven by concept and again, appropriateness of media and technique. I allow concept to dictate material and technique, which is why some of my new work currently in development involves working with pathology processes and biological tissue. It often involves a massive and steep learning curve in the production of the work, but it feels correct and its exciting.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I’ve learnt not to fall into categorising my work and if I do, it’s usually for the convenience of others. The viewer will always interpret your work based on their own preconceptions and experiences so who am I to tell someone that what I do is something other than what they perceive. My work and the media with which I work had shifted so much over the past 25 years, different people know me and my work as different things based on what they saw, when, what it was made from and what it was about. I let other people decide. When asked what a particular work of his was about American Artist Robert Rauschenberg replied unapologetically, ‘I don’t know! It’s whatever the viewer decides it is about’.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I currently have a small studio on the Kings College London campus at London Bridge in a dental laboratory. It’s far from conventional but it works for me. I start work late morning and finish late evening, largely to avoid busy commuter times and I’ve always worked better during those times. I do tend to get ‘makers fear’ and I’ll put off starting new work for quite a while until I absolutely must get cracking. It’s the fear of producing junk. Once I get past the first few days of making what feels like junk, I realise I’ve worked a lot out in the process and pull things together pretty quickly. I like to work fast and I always work alone as I’m very easily distracted but always with music. I tend to listen to the same album or playlist on repeat for days. Probably best that I prefer a solitary work environment!
Discover and develop ideas
Do you use a sketchbook?
Never. I work 3D so I try out and prototype ideas in 3D directly on the body and respond to the material or components I’m using. Particularly when you are working on or creating a form to be presented on a body form or on a human, you can discover and develop ideas so much faster and to a greater degree of refinement. I just don’t see the sense in making a 2D representation of something you are going to render in 3D. It’s whatever suits your practice the best. Art and design lecturers will be cursing me the land over!
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I tend to be inspired by people, stories, experience and opinion. I have to confess I’m very very rarely inspired by art. I admire it… not a lot of it, but the work I do love, I really love and I can never put my finger on exactly why. There’s a correctness about it. I love the work of Bill Woodrow and pretty much anything he does is amazing, amusing, touching and thoughtful. Artworks I’d consider perfect? Marc Quinn’s ‘Self’, Fiona Banner’s ‘Harrier’, Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No:2’, Jacob Epstein’s ‘Rock Drill’, Yves Tanguy’s ‘The Invisibles’, The Chapman Brothers’ ‘Fucking Hell’, Matt Collishaw’s ‘Throbbing Gristle’ and ‘Garden of Unearthly Delights’.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
It’s less a piece of work, more an event. I’d been working for a good number of years on Project Facade, researching the stories of Gillies WW1 facial injury patients, designing and making the work and curating the exhibition Faces of Battle at National Army Museum Chelsea with their curatorial team which presented the story of the foundation of the plastic surgery clinic at Sidcup by Gillies. By the time the exhibition was installed I was mentally and physically exhausted, but excited and nervous for the opening night which would be attended by many of the relatives of the men about whom the work had been made and with whom I had collaborated.
It was possibly the proudest night of my life to be able to present all I had discovered with the help of all these amazing people in attendance, but the best came the following day. The whole point of the project was to bring the stories of these men to a wider public and on the press day, I was more than happy to take a step back and watch the families of the men be interviewed by tv, print, radio and web journalists, telling their own particular stories of the relative they were so proud of.
Evolved beyond recognition
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
In terms of what I make, it has evolved beyond recognition, but there are still some common themes, materials and processes I regularly return to. It’s my language. What do I see coming creatively? I like the idea of impermanence and the artwork existing only in the mind of those who saw it. Accepting that nothing lasts forever.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Don’t become reliant on expensive technology to explore your creativity. The temptation is to develop a practice at university which relies on equipment that frankly only a university department or business can afford. Always keep some elements entirely within your physical ability to make.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
I love visiting specialist stores and immersing myself in their range of ‘stuff’ be it leather, plastics, hardware, lab equipment, butchers, fishing tackle shops, fabric remnant stores.
Talks and exhibitions
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My curved scalpel, always fresh and always sharp.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I usually tour a series of Art Schools and Universities every year and speak about my career arc and those I’ve presented to regularly over the past few years have seen the expansion into fashion, so my audiences have changed quite a bit. When I’m invited I also speak at conferences and events and because of the breadth of my practice over the years, these can also be quite varied. I usually post on my website or Facebook profile when I’m doing these events. Put me in front of a group of people, and I talk… a lot, and very frankly.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I don’t exhibit very often, in part because of the length of time it takes to make the work. This means I pretty much always exhibit in group shows where my work fits the theme and can be seen in context with other works which deal with related issues and concepts. I also tend to find that having my work published in magazines like Vogue, W, V and AnOther Magazine serve as a pretty good platform for introducing my work to the right target audience.
Where can readers see your work this year?
I’m currently exhibiting in ‘The Needle’s Eye’ at KODE Bergen and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design Oslo, Norway. From 17th Jan 2015 Ill be exhibiting new fabric based work in ‘Faces of Conflict’ at Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter until 5th April. I’ll be exhibiting ceramic work in ‘Slippage – The Unstable Nature of Difference’ at Contemporary Art Space Chester from 9th March to 27th March 2015.
I also have a book coming out early 2015 called ‘Paddy Hartley – Of Faces and Facades’ by Professor David Houston Jones and Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt published by Black Dog Publishing. I’ll also be presenting new work I’m developing with the support of The Wellcome Trust later in the year which could prove to be quite controversial but as yet, I haven’t begun looking for venues who can handle the work so best keep an eye on my website for news about that.
You can see more of Paddy’s new work in ‘Faces of Conflict’ at Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) Exeter from Saturday 17th Jan 2015 until Sunday 5th April 2015
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