Naive and humorous illustrations by Harry McKenzie
Illustrator and Generic Greeting member Harry Mckenzie feels a lot of feelings and puts them down on paper in pencil, crayon and paint.
Naive and funny, his outpouring of drawings function as a kind of visual diary of the human condition. Statements are written out in wonky capitals pressed hard into the page with a raw honesty.
Intrigued to find out more, we spoke to him about his playful ceramic work, drawing as therapy and finding inspiration on a skateboard.
Your work touches on some rather personal, emotional experiences – is drawing a kind of therapy for you?
It definitely started as a therapy. I was having bad month a while ago and it was just a way to get stuff out onto paper – get ideas and thoughts out physically so you can see them and get over them. I was nervous about putting them out online and into shows and things but I realised a lot of people feel the same way and relate to them, which means a lot to me. People also misinterpret my work sometimes, they’ll get the meaning wrong which sometimes I like more than if they actually ‘got’ it. Art can be whatever you want it to be, it can mean what you want it to mean.
Have you always been into drawing? Did illustration feel like a natural choice for University?
I’ve loved drawing for as long as I can remember, I’ve always drawn. I’ve always had a lot of support from friends and family in terms of pursuing a career in art. I’m extremely grateful for that. When I left school I went straight to study a National Diploma and specialised in illustration. My tutors in college were supportive and extremely helpful – after that I went to uni and had equally supportive tutors that I am equally grateful for! I just always wanted to study art. I couldn’t imagine studying anything else.
Art can be whatever you want it to be, it can mean what you want it to mean.
Where do you go when you need inspiration?
I’ve got an inspiration blog, where I collect other peoples work that I like. It’s really great looking through it because I love it all! I’ve looked through it before and forgotten it was my own blog like “Wow I love this persons taste, I love all this work!” then realised it was mine and just laughed to myself. I’ve got a bunch of zines and comics and stuff that are great to look through too.
Waking up in the middle of the night and writing things into the notes on your phone is good too.
I check my notes in the morning and they’re always interesting. Just being outside and talking to people and getting out of the house is a big inspiration too. Conversing with people or being out seeing things Something can just catch your eye or your ear and you know you can turn it into a drawing.
Which artists do you admire?
Picasso’s ceramics were a huge influence on me when I was making my own last year. I loved how playful they were. It really inspired me to just have fun with what I considered quite a ‘serious’ material to work with. I love Blexbolex’s use of colour too, anything he does is great in my eyes. I really like messy, DIY work too, like the punk style zines. Jason Jägel has done some really great murals recently. He’s another favourite of mine. Oh and Ed Templeton! I nearly forgot. Basically everyone in Beautiful Losers. That whole scene was a huge inspiration to me initially when I decided I wanted to make art seriously.
And when you’re not drawing… what do you like to do?
Definitely skateboarding. I love it. Apart from drawing I think it’s my favourite thing ever. I would skate all the time if it was physically possible. I’ve been skating for more than ten years so it’s been a major influence on me in a lot of ways. I think art and skateboarding go hand in hand. I like riding my bike too.
If you could make anything, anywhere what would it be? Do you have a dream project?
I think something large scale, maybe on the side of a building. Sometimes if I’m not sure if I like a piece of work I’ll imagine it 20ft high on the side of a house and see how much I like it then. I love textures too, I think it would be great to see the texture of a pencil really big somewhere. Being able to fill up an entire place with work too – really create an environment, almost so much so that it’s overwhelming. I would love to create this place where you walk in and are just enthralled by my work. Creating everything in the room specifically for this environment. Like a 3D illustration you are a part of. That idea is really exciting to me.
I work quickly too so I think I would be able to do it! I tried to do it on a small scale for my degree show, I made some 5ft 5” cut out wooden characters, painted like my 2D pencil work – it was like lifting them off the page. I think that’s what I try to do with my ceramics too, bring these 2D things into the 3D world.
I’ve loved drawing for as long as I can remember, I’ve always drawn.
Words are ever present in your work – whose words do you like reading?
I’m half way through about 5 books at the moment, I’m really bad at just sticking to one and finishing it. I have a lot of zines and art mags that I’ve collected over the years. We Go To The Gallery by Miriam Elia is really great, I’m happy to own a copy of that. I’ve got a few really old composition and design books that I really like too.
We also admire your recent ceramic experiments – what do you enjoy most about working in this format?
Personally, I get quite wrapped up in the process of creating things, rather than the outcome – the final outcome is important but getting there is just as fun for me. I love how long it takes to actually complete a ceramic piece start to finish – you’re waiting for it to be fired, waiting for the clay to be in the right state to do certain things. The process of making something by hand, out of a block of clay is a bit of a waiting game. I think it’s fun just being playful with it – if it takes 3 weeks to get the final piece, who’s saying you have to spend 2 of those weeks sculpting this perfect thing? Make something really intricate or make a million pinch pots! Just have fun with it – it’s a fun material. Do what you want. I love everything about it.
I got really, really excited about working with porcelain and trying to make it as thin as I possibly could. I made some cups so thin they can’t support their own weight when they’re filled with water, BUT you can hold them up to the sun and they’re see through, which is pretty fun. Once, I was rolling out clay for so long and concentrating so much I forgot to eat the whole day and nearly passed out!
There are so many different ways to work with clay… beautiful glazes, a mix of techniques. A lot of possibilities.
Do you have a studio work space? What’s it like?
It’s either really clean or really messy. I either draw in sketchbooks or loose paper, so there’s piles of books and piles of loose paper constantly around. It’s clean at the moment because everything has just been put in an old filing cabinet I got. It’s full to the brim with drawings. I’ve got two huge boxes full of ceramics too. It’s overwhelming sometimes but it’s a good thing having so much work.
You’re part of Generic Greeting collective too – how did you get involved, and what projects have you got in the pipeline?
Everyone in the collective is really tight with each other. It’s like a family, honestly. We’ve got some special things coming up for our fifth birthday and some other things that I’m not allowed to talk about! We have an exhibition coming up at Hereford College of Arts, called Homecoming. A lot of the members in Generic Greeting are from Hereford and studied there (including myself) so we thought it would be appropriate to go back a few years later and exhibit there. The show opens October 8th, so do come and say hello and drink some cider with us!
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given about drawing, art or life?
- Put your feelings into your work whether you’re happy or sad!
- Personal work can be the best.
- If you have a really strong concept for something, the art will make itself.
- Good design is timeless.
- And of course – R.I.P – Relax Is Priority!