First-year painting student Harry Roberts' bright, joyful canvases caught my attention right away for their brightness and playfulness. A largely primary palette and a lightheartedness that brings to mind childhood stories and games, their small format is also quite endearing. You can find more images of his work as he continues his studies at Camberwell College of Arts in London at his Instagram page -- link after our Q&A!
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First, you're a first-year painting student at Camberwell College of Arts. Can you tell me more about yourself? Where are you from originally? When or how did you first discover painting was a thing you wanted to get into?
I’m 19 years old and I’m from Falmouth, Cornwall. No one in my family had a real interest in art, so mine was formed in school and I came to painting fairly late. From about 16 or 17 I began to take it more seriously.
A lot of your recent work has a cartoonish sun motif in common; can you tell me more about what you're working on lately?
I think of them very much as happy paintings. The motif is really direct and immediate, and I had been using the sun motif for a while, and then whilst monoprinting, I just happened to put a smiling face on one of them. It’s featured in almost everything since. The work I’m making lately is much more playful and less severe than previous work – which I feel I had tended to try and over-intellectualise. I’m having a lot of fun with my painting, just using different motifs and incorporating humour. It’s the most human my work has ever been, and I’m just making lots and thinking after! For most the time I’ve been making seriously I have produced purely abstract work, but I’m enjoying the more representational quality of what I’m doing now, though I don’t think it’s that worthwhile separating the two.
You also work in a very bold, primary palette most of the time; is there a reason for this?
Colour is really quite new to my practice. It was always something I felt I would use badly, as a result of strict colour theory lessons at school. I’m really enjoying working with colour in a fairly untrained and unintellectual manner, preferring to trust my impulses and visual judgement. I’m particularly keen on using cadmium reds and yellows. Sometimes I use paint directly from the tube, which is often considered bad practice, but I just like the strength of the colour. The boldness of the palette feels appropriate with the sense of cartoon and the immediacy of the drawing.
As a first-year student, what is your studio or workspace like? Do you get your own?
Being in London it does mean that studio space is slightly limited, but it’s fine. I have enough wall space to mean that my ambition isn’t thwarted, and I can’t complain I’m by the sinks and by a big window so I’ve done better than most.
Who or what are some of your major influences?
I think I respond best to painters. Cy Twombly is my greatest love, but I think it’s hard to avoid the relation to someone like Philip Guston in my recent paintings. I’m really enjoying the work of contemporary painters like Danny Fox and Sam Bassett as well.
Is there a challenge or goal that you've given yourself for this year or for your time at Camberwell? Or do you find yourself experimenting pretty openly at this point?
I think I’m just enjoying being in the studio a lot, and I just want to make as much work as possible. At the moment I feel it’s important that I enjoy painting and that I don’t overthink anything or try to place constraints on my work. I’m keen to get involved in showing as much as possible, so I suppose I’m hoping to take part in a show or two before the end of this year.
If you could meet up for a chat with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be, and what would you talk about?
It’d be fun to chat painting with Twombly, but maybe football with Lionel Messi.
What made you choose to attend an art college?
There was nothing else I wanted to do. I can’t think of anything better than being in a studio environment, and I love being totally involved in my practice. Being in London is great for me as well.
What do you find to be the most daunting or difficult aspect of beginning to pursue art seriously, perhaps something that you didn't expect?
I’m really comfortable with it at the moment, but maybe knowing that once I’m out of Art College I’ll have to become responsible for other things, and it may not be as viable to maintain a 9-5 studio practice.
On the other hand, what do you find most exciting about beginning your studies?
It feels so indulgent to be pursuing the thing I love most. Just having the chance to paint and talk about art every day,
Do you have any current projects you're developing, or shows coming up?
Not at the minute – hopefully things will happen though!
Find more at Instagram.com/hp.roberts!
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