“I think just growing up in Ireland where we’ve kind of been on the wrong side of colonialism, I’ve kind of developed an interest in that kind of thing – politics and power and masculinity…it’s all kind of men trying to outdo each other.” – Conor Harrington discussing his more recent work.
The December 2012 cover of the art magazine, Juxtapoz, featured the painting below called ‘Modern Monarchy’ by Irish born, London based, “post-graffiti” artist, Conor Harrington, and I fell in love. Here’s a link to the accompanying article. I’m still obsessed with this painting. I can’t quite get it out of my head. I wish it was hanging on my wall. Unfortunately, I managed to miss all opportunities to buy it (I probably couldn’t have afforded it anyway) or any of the limited number of prints of the original that were made available.
I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about him for months. Instead of just silently stalking his work online and wishing I had pieces of it in my house, I’m finally writing this post in my new state of resolve to tell people when I appreciate them or their work (I do also plan to send him a gushy, fangirl email about how AMAZING I think his talent is.)
Anyhow, I was telling a friend about Harrington’s work and trying to describe it to her and she asked, “So what do you like about it?” I told her that when I saw Harrington’s ‘Modern Monarchy’ piece last year, it reminded me of this photograph of an African Catholic priest that I once saw in Vanity Fair magazine.
The image was so striking that I decided to cut it out to use as a subject for a painting. (I was taking a painting class at the time, and true to form, I had to go and choose a subject to paint that was WAY above my talent level. It’s kind of like when I took guitar lessons and my guitar teacher asked me what popular song I wanted to learn first and I shot back “Good Love is on the Way” by John Mayer, to which my teacher replied, “Oh, going to jump right into the deep end, are we?!” I’m willing to dog paddle like a motherf*cker!)
Anyhow, I never tried to reproduce a painted version of that photo, but I’ve kept the image all these years and still love to look at it. It is a study in contrasts: a regal, stoic dark-skinned African man in formal, white, Euro-centric vestments photographed against a white wall, the glare of a high sun reflecting brightly off of his dark brown skin. Until I found this photo, I can recall only seeing these robes on white, middle-aged men. And I think the contrasts that drew me to that photo are also what I find intriguing about Harrington’s work. He combines modern themes and 18th century costuming, multi-ethnic subjects in colonial-era, upper-crust scenarios, hyper realism breaking through abstraction, and the use of solvents to create paint runs that evoke the idea of, as he says, the power being stripped away and dissolving from powerful men.
Back to ‘Modern Monarchy’ – when I saw it, the brocade jacket immediately brought to mind John Singer Sargent and his exceptional ability to paint delicate lace, silks, and velvet with a degree of execution that left you sure you could feel the fabric if you just reached out and touched the painting. With Harrington’s work, there’s the added bonus of seeing such precisely rendered details offset by rough slashes of spray paint, dripping paint runs, and abstraction. I can’t say much more than that I just like the way these paintings make me feel. They hold my attention. I want to study them.
I’m really captivated by Conor Harrington’s work, which he describes as “post-graffiti”. His talent is unquestionable, his skill and execution stellar, his pieces are unlike anything I’ve seen. His pieces are complex, multi-layered, symbolic visual feasts. His work can be found through Lazarides Rathbone in London, a gallery known for representing “talents who thrive outside of established art industry structures”. Here are several more images, mostly of his paintings but with an outdoor mural or two thrown in.
If you are interested in seeing more of his work, go here. Here’s a link to Harrington’s blog, which he doesn’t really seem to update, but you can follow his Instagram feed @conorsaysboom. He is scheduled to have a show in New York in the Spring of 2014. I can’t wait to see what comes next from him.