Old master painting meets street graffiti

Conor Harrington's works fuse aristocratic dress with modern techniques
Conor Harrington, Three Wise Men (completed 2012), image © the artist and Lazarides. Photography: Ian Cox
Conor Harrington, Three Wise Men (completed 2012), image © the artist and Lazarides. Photography: Ian Cox


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Lazarides Gallery, 11 Rathbone Place, London, United Kingdom

lazinc.com

From: 2 March 2012
Until: 12 April 2012

Conor Harrington: Deat Meat

Opening hours:
Tuesaday - Saturday
11am until 7pm


Gallery


 

In his Brick Lane studio, Irish artist Conor Harrington is putting the finishing touches to his upcoming solo show at London’s Lazarides Rathbone galleryDead Meat, a power play featuring old masters’ motifs with topless glamour models cast as nude muses. The title of the show, says Harrington, encompasses “the decline in empire and power structure as well as the rise in general consumption and pornography”. In addition to emulating their style, Harrington’s paintings also mirror the greats’ meticulous skill, but in an act of rejection of the old guard, the sometimes street artist spray-paints his canvases with scrawled graffiti. On some subconscious level this taps into a similar sense of disassociation from his work that the artist has when he puts his art on the street, where it is very often painted over, cleaned away or defaced.

Conor Harrington at work in his Brick Lane studio in London (2012), image © the artist and Lazarides. Photography: Ian Cox Conor Harrington at work in his Brick Lane studio in London (2012), image © the artist and Lazarides. Photography: Ian Cox

Why do you employ motifs from old classics?

I like using costume and fantasy to tell a story. My work has always centred on masculinity and ego, so I think that period dress is the ultimate power dressing. I also like playing around with opposites and contrasts, so I like how the refinement of the aristocratic dress works with the aggression of the abstract graffiti.

The paintings you reference come from a time when Europe was a global super power, now that the middle east and China have stronger economies, it makes that concept look outdated. How do you think this is impacting on your work?

I listen to the radio all day long in the studio. I listen to music a lot but during the day I have the news on constantly. I suppose it’s because as an artist I work on my own from morning to night I listen to talk-radio for comfort. Over the years my work has started to deal with current affairs and politics a little more and the big power shift of today is the rise of Asia. I've always been interested in colonialism and how countries rise and fall so it’s interesting to see how Europe is dealing with its own decline today. The basic idea behind the show is that of a feast, with the characters dining while their world shows signs of crumbling at the edges.

Conor Harrington, No Shadow (completed 2012), image © the artist and Lazarides. Photography: Ian Cox Conor Harrington, No Shadow (completed 2012), image © the artist and Lazarides. Photography: Ian Cox

How does the impact of your work change when it is viewed in a gallery as opposed to in the streets?

I like to think that my indoor and outdoor work are very different. I use different mediums, mainly the hardy and robust spray-paint outdoors and the more delicate and timely oils indoors. My walls can take from an hour to three days, whereas my paintings take weeks, so the level of refinement is far greater in a gallery. Most street art is big and brash – designed for maximum impact – and you can only really expect a viewer to give it a fleeting glance. I think all artists like to think that a viewer will spend more time with a painting in a gallery but I reckon you're lucky if each painting gets more than 20 seconds of their time. Art probably gets most attention on the Internet.

A lot of street art is political and feels impactful simply because it’s been painted illegally– what, for you, separates work that is only interesting on the street from work that holds up in a gallery?

I think it’s all in the medium and execution. A lot of street art shows consist of outdoor pieces that have been reproduced on a smaller scale indoors – same image, same medium, same technique. I think this can work for some artists but for a lot of shows it’s a bit like taking a wild animal and parading it in the zoo. I think it’s very important for street artists to change their approach when working for a show. You work in a studio without the limits of the outdoors and you can literally do anything – it’s important to embrace that freedom.

Conor Harrington, No Shadow (completed 2012), image © the artist and Lazarides. Photography: Ian Cox
Conor Harrington, No Shadow (completed 2012), image © the artist and Lazarides. Photography: Ian Cox

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