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From Film Sets to Fine Art: Exclusive Interview with London-Based Artist Harry Hancock

Harry Hancock, artist
Harry Hancock in his London studio. Photo by Jenny Munoz.

In the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary art, London-based emerging artist Harry Hancock (b. 1994, UK) stands at the intersection of reality and representation, challenging the authenticity of imagery in our digital age. On a recent visit to the artist's studio in North West London, I had the privilege of delving into his mind and creative space. Engaging in a conversation about his art practice, I explored the intricate layers of his work and discovered the unique perspective he brings to the contemporary art scene.

Hancock holds a BA in Fine Art from Bath School of Art and Design and has a background in scenic painting for film sets, which allows him to bring a unique perspective to his art, drawing parallels between the meticulous construction of artificial environments and the curated lives we encounter both online and offline. With a focus on the mediated and clichéd notions of life that saturate our screens, Hancock creates a fascinating exploration of the ceaselessly reinterpreted moments that shape our perceptions.

With great enthusiasm, I share my interview with Harry Hancock. As someone deeply passionate about introducing you to new artists, Harry is one to have on your radar.

Please tell us about your background and what inspired you to become an artist.

Growing up, I had no real interest in painting but instead had an obsession with film and TV. As a teenager, my older sister introduced me to the world of reality and trash TV. This opened up a curiosity about the authenticity of what we are watching and the line between reality and fiction.

I developed a keen interest in music during college and started learning drums. My friends and I formed strong bonds over our shared love of music and, eventually, art. This peaked when I took my first trip to London with a friend and saw Peter Doig's "Echo Lake" at Tate Britain.  The moment I saw what I had previously only encountered in books blew me away and probably marked the beginning of my love for art.

Harry Hancock
Harry Hancock, "Grounded" (2022). Watercolour Monotype on Paper. Courtesy of the artist.

As a BA Fine Art graduate from Bath School of Art and Design, how has your formal education influenced your artistic practice? Are there specific lessons or experiences from your time in Bath that continue to resonate in your work today?

At my university, I was selected to participate in a seminar series run by Dexter Dalwood. The books, essays, and films he gave us circled around what it is to be an artist. A few of the things that really stuck with me are "Burden of Dreams" directed by Les Blank, "The Loser" by Thomas Bernhard, and "The Royal Game" by Stefan Zweig. They all give an insight into the psyche of an artist and the process of creation, whether it's comparing ourselves to others, the impact of isolation, ideas becoming predictable, the sacrifices and determination needed to work, the comedic moments of things going horribly wrong or the reflection of what it was all for when a project is complete.

Harry Hancock, artist
Harry Hancock, "Waves" (2022). Digital collage and painting. Courtesy of the artist.

Living and working in London can be a dynamic experience. How do the city's energy and culture play a role in shaping your artistic vision and the themes you explore in your work?

The accessibility of free art and exhibition openings plays a big part, particularly due to the people you can meet and observe at these events.

Harry Hancock art studio
Photo by Jenny Munoz from Harry Hancock's studio.

Is there a specific environment or material integral to your work?

For me, watercolor monotypes are a crucial part of the development of an idea; there is a loss of control and unpredictability that I like. The image you apply to the silkscreen may not necessarily translate to the final outcome. As the prints are squeegeed through the silkscreen, each version gradually decreases in strength, resulting in a colour and tone with a slight ghostly quality. Some of these I leave as they are, others are used as the grounding for other versions to experiment on.

Harry Hancock artist
Harry Hancock in his London studio. Photo by Jenny Munoz.

Your background in fine art and scenic painting for film sets provides a unique blend of artistic perspectives. How do you find the intersection between these two worlds influences your artistic expression?

These two worlds can juxtapose each other. When it came to the instruction for my Fine Arts degree, there were traditional and specific rules governing the application of paint and the priming of canvases, particularly focused on ensuring the longevity and stability of a painting's surface.

In the world of scenic painting, there is a much more experimental approach that blends the use of water-based and spirit-based paints to cause chemical reactions that I had previously thought of as forbidden. However, the sets and structures we construct are typically for one specific film or advert and are not designed to endure for centuries.

Harry Hancock
Harry Hancock, "Grounded" (2022). Digital collage and painting. Courtesy of the artist.

In the context of your work, how do you balance the mundane and the extravagant, given that film sets often demand detailed attention to specific spots while the rest may go unnoticed? How does this dynamic play out in your artistic process?

Constructing sets is where the mundane moments exist. There is endless repetition in the jobs we carry out. Tasks that demand specific attention to detail, skill, or significant time investment, such as applying paint to create the illusion of aging, can span weeks or even months, and their results may only be briefly glimpsed in a few seconds of footage if at all. The sets we spend so long building mostly end up in skips and being destroyed; this recently influenced a painting I did of a rusty skip door titled "Reality Ends Here."

The locations can also go beyond mundane. We were once sent to work in a carpark that stank of urine and was partially flooded. While balancing on wooden planks in the middle of a giant puddle, likely a biohazard, and next to a discarded car battery submerged in the filthy water, I wondered what I was doing there.

On the other hand, we do have the opportunity to visit extravagant or captivating locations, including renting out the entire Eurostar line or working in manor houses such as the one featured in Emerald Fennell's "Saltburn."

Harry Hancock

Saltburn film set. Image courtesy of the artist.

The collective subconscious influenced by TV and film is a powerful concept. Can you discuss a specific film or TV show that has had a lasting impact on your artistic journey and the way you perceive the world?

The documentaries by Adam Curtis definitely altered my view of the world. The first one I watched was "The Century of the Self." With access to BBC archival footage and a unique storytelling ability, he re-examines and tries to make sense of historical events using a format different to what we know. It is stylized and uses captivating imagery, often juxtaposing the music he uses and the stories he tells. From violent war scenes to ballroom dancing, his collage-like filmmaking has a strange way of evoking unsettling emotions.

Harry Hancock, "Burner" (2023). Watercolour Monotype on Paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Are there any specific rituals or habits that you have developed as an artist that contribute to your creative flow and inspiration?

I mostly keep a strict routine and try to do the same hours in my studio that I would do when going to work on the film sets, this is either on weekends or when there are breaks in production. This structure works best for me as I can sometimes end up not being able to drag myself away from the studio and reach a state of burnout where I mess up or destroy what I had been working on.

Having a friend to come in and paint with me in the studio is something I use to break up the routine and monotony. In addition, with night sessions, I feel no distraction due to the darkness and silence of the usually busy studios.

Harry Hancock art studio
Harry Hancock (artist) and Jenny Munoz (author). Photo by Jenny Munoz.

Final question: who are the living artists that inspire you?

In my studio, there is a page open on a Peter Doig book most of the time; I also love his series of aquatints that were on display at the Courtauld Gallery earlier this year. Generally, I discover new artists on Instagram that keep me questioning what kind of paintings I want to make, and it is always a bonus when they exhibit in London.

Stay up-to-date with the artist here:

Instagram : hancockharry


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