Tomas Harker is an emerging artist featured in collections worldwide and garnering increasing international interest. He has been included in an exhibition at Tate Modern and has recently had two successful solo shows in the UK. Tomas recontextualises images culled from classical paintings and found photographs, obscuring or altering parts of the original works to create a new, uncanny experience. Aesthetica talk to the artist about traditional inspiration and visual territories.
A: Could you discuss how you approach your works in terms of composition – is it something that you have completely planned beforehand due to the use of oils?
TH: I make small preparatory paintings with acrylic paint. These tend to be fast and quite spontaneous. They are used as a reference, however I often change my mind and the work takes a new direction while it is being painted.
A: The works use human figures reminiscent of traditional painting methods, but contain ethereal colour schemes and haunting elements, for example different in tone or abstraction. What is it that you’re trying to achieve in terms of marrying historical with the contemporary?
TH: I use images of historical paintings as a resource. They are images that have been reproduced many times and have become objectified and disassociated from the original within our visual culture. I like to obscure the narrative to create ambiguity that forces a new kind of reinterpretation, to my mind it forces reconsideration. In this way the ideals of the original is questioned, but it is also seen from a fresh perspective.
A: How does paint allow you to create something new within narratives or textural layering?
TH: I like to use the physicality of paint, to smear and to splatter paint, to discombobulate the original image. To complicate the work visually, it becomes more of a challenge for the eye to process.
A: How do the colours you choose help to evoke certain intended emotions?
TH: I sometimes use colours to purposefully clash with the traditional visual territory of the original. Colours are often washed out, colder, or muted. To me, it replaces the sentimentality with an uneasy, almost uncanny feeling.
A: If there’s something that you’d like audiences to take away from your paintings, what would it be?
TH: Ultimately the work is subjective. It can be interpreted on different levels, and the efficacy depends on what the viewer brings to the work. I am not sure if what I see is the same as what others see, but if it engages it doesn’t really matter.
A: What has been your most exciting exhibition up to date?
TH: The first show I had. I couldn’t get a commercial gallery to show my work so I organised an exhibition myself. I was just starting out as a full time painter, with no formal art education, and not much experience of selling work. At the time it felt like there was a pressure to justify what I was doing, to others but also myself. So I guess the excitement came because for me there was a lot riding on the shows success. Fortunately it sold out.
A: What do you have planned in terms of future projects?
TH: The main focus is always the work, which I feel like is in continuous development. Each painting leads on from another, and I am really keen to concentrate in the studio to make the work the best it can be. While aspects of the work are improvised, there is a good deal of research that goes in to it also. In terms of exhibitions, I have some upcoming group shows this year and a solo show in preparation for next year.
1. Tomas Harker, Kingdom. Courtesy of the artist.