Interviews with Artists

Paul Harrison

Interview by David McLeavy

Published September 2013


Paul Harrison’s work focuses on expanding upon the many plausible uses, interpretations, and existing meanings imbedded in animation as an art form. This process starts with the understanding that animation is the creation of the illusion of movement and then never ends!


So your work primarily focuses on the act of drawing or illustration, whether that be directly onto paper in a traditional 2 dimensional sense or within your stop motion animation works, so what is it that interests you about the act of drawing and why does it take preference over other choices of medium?

My interest in drawing is personal and organic. I have been drawing and doodling from a very early age, so it is the most instant form of communication for me, to the extent that I often find it easier to draw something than to speak or talk. Which is slightly bizarre but I am quite sure that I am not the only one who feels this way about drawing. Moreover, I like how you used the word 'act', because there is a performative element in drawing and mark making.This could be why in my practice it presides over other mediums. Also with my focus on making animation, this performative element comes to the fore because in creating movement you have to use your imagination to see what is around the corner. There is also something deeply personal perhaps in the 'act of drawing' a process of understanding ones own reality is possible? I've been quite a fan of Zen Buddhist Calligraphy and especially the Ensō Circle, which is a powerful symbol in the Japanese tradition and a good example of a method of engaging with reality. Drawing could also be said to be quite political depending on how you view the process and how you use it in language. For example, 'drawing on' and 'drawing from' are two phrases that allow for an understanding of the politics inherent in a lot of art production. I came to this through reading some writing by the artist Dale Holmes. In his short essay Forget Abstraction, Dale puts forth ten ways to recapture abstraction as a useful process rather than an over used stylistic word. This is one of his suggestions 'V. ... This means that abstraction is resistance‐as‐such (politics) and never resistance‐in‐ particular (the political)'. I am very grateful to Dale for this because up until reading this, I was struggling so much with different desires and aspirations for the work I wanted to make and this difference gave me the confidence to strive to resolve my confusion.

Away From The Unknown, digital video, 2011

What I find interesting is the way that there is a distinct immediacy with the act of drawing yet the act of producing a stop motion animation is a painstakingly long process. How do you feel about the relationship between drawing and animation and the difference in their methods of production?

That’s a very good question. I do believe that stop motion animation does carry that immediacy because each frame you create is a separate drawing and then this travels into the digital realm, either as a photograph or as a scan you find that this immediacy is extended and the line that you originally created gains momentum and has a life of its own. To perhaps understand an interesting dynamic between this prolonged process and the more singular stationary instant form of an illustration, we should look to an axiom used by the artist Francis Alÿs to describe animation. 'Maximum Effort = Minimal Result', which summarises the painstaking element of animating that for me is really important to acknowledge. That something can lead to nothing, and that doing nothing often leads to something and that the time invested in animation is another material that your working with. This is not necessarily present in most drawing, though, drawing does tend to be present in most forms of animation. Even in Computer Generated Images you draw the wire model and then render and animate.
The relationship between drawing and animation is similar to father and son or mother or daughter. Animation only started through a desire to make drawings move and the early history of projected animation such as Charles‐Émile Reynaud's, Pauvre Pierrot (1892) and Émile Cohl's, Fantasmagorie (1908). Here are two examples where you can see the immediate importance of drawing to animation. In terms of their respective methods of production in my practice at the moment it is quite hard to distinguish between the two. Because as in Francis Alÿs's practice it is often the case that after finishing an animation you have a huge mass of drawings, sketches, and models. Recently that has not been the case for me as I have created animation purely through drawing on a computer, however I am busy making two pieces of work that seek to reconnect with this alchemic property of animating. Furthermore, it is important to me that I continue to create images that are still and are exhibited next to my moving images, because I feel that I am still developing an understanding of what animation is and the drawings that I create often help structure or influence the content of a film. This then applies to what I alluded to in my answer to the first question in that the differences between their production can be found in that animation Is more 'drawing from' then 'on', a privileging of the immaterial over the material. Also I like the idea or possibility that animation could be a nice companion to both Metaphysics and Pataphysics.

Weighing Bacchus, pencil and ink, 2013

You seem to continuously draw from a rich tapestry of historical references in your work, whether that be of Buddhist philosophy or early methods of production. I am interested to know how important historical theory is to your methodologies and how relevant you feel they may or may not be in a modern society.

I am keen to stress the importance of history or historicism and I feel that both are necessary in gaining an appreciation for an artistic medium. However it is also very interesting to consider other individualist forms of knowledge such as rationalism or
empiricism and their importance. So to answer your question I would say that historical theory is not as important to my way of working, but is relevant to modern society and I think to borrow the aphorism 'Philosophy is the history of philosophy' from the German philosopher Hegel. Can this not be applied to art? Is 'Art the history of Art' in today’s society and is that a good or a bad thing? I am not sure! Alas, I can offer one esoteric idea that involves animation and it combines with a notion of history that is extremely relevant to modern society. The separate ideas are the popular saying that 'History repeats itself' and unique to moving image, the notion that you are making time material. This 'time being tangible' for me is perhaps the point where animation can remain useful to future societies. The other idea of repetition contains personal hopes in that I desire to articulate a possibility for animation being meditative in its production, thus, allowing for a more wholesome assimilation and an embracement of aspects of Buddhism such as impermanence as well as manifestation. Now all this pertains to my practice but for me the suggestion that history can, will, and has repeated itself is both reassuring and terrifying, but to stay on a positive note a resurgence in authentic, informed, political, and social debate is essential. In recession this sufferable repetitive cycle of capitalism can be put to task. Moreover, one has become intrigued by a rather humorous historical event, Karl Marx once wrote a text The Poverty of Philosophy in response to The Philosophy of Poverty by the French anarchist Pierre‐Joseph Proudhon. An interesting disagreement, although I think a dramatic increase in Marxist and anarchist thought is a healthy thing for I am far from being enthused with our so called modern society.

Because a lot of your animated work can be viewed through internet platforms such as Youtube, Vimeo and your own website, do you think this has helped you to translate your political agendas to a larger audience, as oppose to if you made sculpture, which requires a physical gallery space in order to view it’s entire physicality.

I think that to a degree the Internet and working digitally has its advantages in that your work is very mobile and is easily shared. However if you rely fully on the Internet and creating work that ends up being digital then you lose the opportunity to interact with a physical audience. To engage, contemplate, and discuss an experience with all forms of art in the flesh should be protected. Also working with animation is quite unique in that you have the option to incorporate sculptural and painterly elements into the work. Also, I think that in art production today there is an acceptance and encouragement for having or trying multiple disciplines. I'd also like to differentiate and clarify that having a 'political' agenda is perhaps the wrong question with regards to my work reaching an audience. Arching back to Dale's re‐ articulation of abstraction in my answer to the first question, we are presented with a difference between Politics and The Political. I'd like to state that my work has politics and that this is a separate thing to being, as an individual, political. For me it is essential that the art I create offers both room for contemplation whilst holding its own when out and about in the wider world. I believe I have yet to fully distill these qualities into my work and I believe I am close to creating an artwork that allows for these and other aforementioned sensibilities, amongst happy, chaotic, sequences, and events that one could describe as being part of a wider multi faceted activism.

In a previous question we discussed the extensive process of stop motion animation. I am interested to know how you feel about artists that work in a seemingly ‘at hand’ or, for want of a better word, ‘quick’ way, in comparison to the long processes you undertake? And also do you think that the evidence of the artists labour makes you view an artwork differently?

Well I feel good that there is a mixture of tempos in how artists operate and I am slightly envious of artists who work rather quickly. Because that would allow for a greater more frequent sense of achievement over what I occasionally experience. When I have a really nice idea for a specific sequence or movement but have no idea how to animate it, lets say that I procrastinate for a day maybe do some sketches, I then find that I am no closer to realising the sequence and the time I used sketching could have been put to actually just doing it. This can even become quite robotic or a mechanical process if you dive straight into working repetitively and it can be quite easy to get lost, which is why in the animation/film industry and generally planning an animation you create a storyboard with specific timing and all that. Well I find this quite restricting even though I will acknowledge it has been essential for a reason. It is my preference to just do various sketches either on paper or digitally, I feel like it allows for serendipity and happy accidents. This is another really great question, it is strange, how my way of working is quite slow and two of my favourite artists who work mostly outside of moving image are Wolfgang Laib and Lee Ufan. Laib and his work take a long time especially his pollen pieces as he harvests the pollen by hand. Ufan uses extremely considered minimal brushstrokes to create his paintings. These two artists I really admire and I think that the evidence of labour does affect how I view an artwork, as I think that it is important in art that the artist and the narratives/processes of work that lead into an artwork or exhibition are only thought of as enriching. Labour as a notion is important to me, its essential that I feel like the work I make has required an extremely high work ethic and energy to complete. I can talk all day long about ideas, art, artists, but it would be a pure immorality if I did not acknowledge that everything I have/will achieve, would never have been possible if I did not have an extremely supportive hard working family and parents. In this manner I would also like to suggest that as an artist you are morally or ethically obliged to remember that it is a luxury to be able to create art. Especially in the present with so many struggling to find work if we have the option to create a new space/perspective then as an opportunity it has to be cherished, seized, and transformed into something worth sharing and worthy of our time!

Under New Management, 2013, Access Gallery, Vancouver

You also run a collaborative project known as F/O/R/C/E Lectures with fellow artist Sarah Smizz. Could you talk a little about that and what the intention of the project is?

Free. Online. Radically. Collected. Education, is a project that explores the expanding digital environment which is the internet. I approached Sarah with the idea of a collaboration because I have always been a big fan of her work and have gained an incredible amount from our discussions and friendship over the years. She is one of the most humble individuals I know, always willing to share knowledge, advice, and is hugely influential in my increasing political awareness. This project obviously has politics as you can see by the use of the word 'radically'. It was initially inspired because me and Sarah share a love of drawing and it was obvious to us that there was space for our natural affinity for this medium to be used online, to be critical, of specific capitalist attempts to monopolise knowledge and education. Here, I am using the word drawing to describe a process of bringing unique bits of information or data together so in this sense it is curatorial, however, the underlying origins of this ongoing body of work for both of us reside in similar experiences in our comprehensive secondary school education. At one point over the time we spent in these separate institutions we where faced with the prospect of not being able to progress onto university. For me this was because I was placed against my wishes in vocational education, which if I had remained in, would have meant that I would not have been able to even sit the exams necessary for entry to university, all because I was judged on past results rather than more current grades. Sarah's experience was one of being unfairly mistreated for asking a valid question (non school uniform day as fundraiser?) to a Headteacher. This is why we started the project. Literally, because in today’s system people and their ability to learn are not valued so we are seeking to utilise digital infrastructure and technology to facilitate resistance. Towards this 'bourgeoisie' manipulation of education designed to provide a workforce that has limited access to opportunity or knowledge. The project is a twofold questioning of digital material and its qualities whilst using the same material to provide unique individuals (not just artists) the chance to share and showcase what makes them valuable. This collaboration also involves two other remarkable individuals at this current time, Gareth Mason and David Stephen Michael.

So finally, what are you planning in the near future?

To begin with I am co‐running a film and video screening called Lumière,
with artist Catriona Mackie based upon the concept of using natural light to curate a showreel of artists film and video. This will kick start at Bloc Projects in Sheffield on the Friday 20th September and then travel to Power Lunches in London and various other venues. In the second half of this year I really want to ensure that F/O/R/C/E has jumped off and is gathering momentum as it is really still in its infancy. All this will run with the completion of a body of work that has been inspired by experiences I have had this year, adjacent to social and media events in recent times that have created what I believe to be a greater need/necessity for debate, both, in and outside, of art. I have created two new drawings (one being Weighing Bacchus, 2013) that complete a triptych and the rest of this collection of work constitutes a new animation. Hopefully, in the coming months I can secure ways of releasing these works to a wider audience. I also have a desire to improve on my writing ability and basically just to work really hard on all aspects, nuances, and interests of my work. Whilst being engaged with as many opportunities as I can actively participate in and facilitate.


Paul Harrison born in Beverley in 1989, he lives and works on the planet Mars and occasionally moonlights on planet Earth. He graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in 2011 and has recently created animations for a charitable independent theatre production Queer Macbeth, London 2013, along with having work in Under New Management, Video Rental, Access Gallery, Vancouver 2013, curated by Suzanne Carte and Su-Ying Lee.


If you like this why not read out interview with Rosanne Robertson


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