Artist Spotlight #78: Harriet McKay


“All I know is that art has made me realise that language is so limited in its ability to express how incredible the world is and how much things and people can make you feel”

…which is fair enough, as we got to know the textured but clear, communicative quality present in Harriet McKay’s work in this Artist Spotlight.

Q: Hey Harriet! Please give us a mini profile about yourself.

A: Im incredibly happy at the moment.

Q: What form does your inspiration take? Is it people, travel, atmosphere, historical figures, memories etc?

A: Other artists, 4 year olds, the colour yellow.

Q: How would you describe your style and its progression throughout the years?

A: Technically – I work bigger now, it feels better standing and using my whole body to paint. Moving my arms with the brush makes me feel a connection with the paint and the canvas or wall, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I feel confident with a brush, I think thats probably the biggest technical difference from then to now. I also used to draw up plans of what I would paint because thats what i thought you were supposed to do but that isnt as fun as going in without a detailed plan.

I’ve started to think of creating a painting as an act performed in a state of play that benefits from experimentation. I’m a pretty ruthless editor out of nature so it feels better to remind myself that when making a painting the result isn’t the direct concern, its more about feeling something and holding it in the paint with the tools I have. The focus on the process instead of the product has taken away a lot of the pressure of creation. Its like climbing a mountain to enjoy the walk, smell all the good stuff and feel the air on your skin instead of climbing the mountain just to get to the top, but getting to the top anyway as a bi-product of enjoying the walk.


Q: Can you please describe your artistic and creative process i.e.: from lingering idea to putting it into practice?

A: I make lots and make it most of the time and I make relatively quickly. This is the way I’ve worked out will maximise the amount of fun I have. I work on 3-8 paintings at a time, and in between experiment with collages or photography or sculptures or whatever. I just make and stop when it feels like it looks right.

Q: Why do you make art? How does it make you feel?

A: I think for people who don’t make art or maybe just never connected with it, its a really strange thing to grasp, and fair enough. Most of the things made don’t get seen or sold, so its a lot of effort for no reward for some people. All I know is that art has made me realise that language is so limited in its ability to express how incredible the world is and how much things and people can make you feel. I’m always amazed at the disconnect between lived experiences and our ability to express them with words, and how art speaks to that void like nothing else does.


Q: Please tell us about your recent mural projects and collaborations. Any other projects in the works? 

It was a very bizarre set of events at the start of the year, i got an email from the creative director of LuLu Lemon who said she had seen a mural I did in Tennessee and wants a similar thing that incorporated Adelaide somehow in the new Rundle Mall store and I came up with a painting which was structured by the grid of Adelaide. It was an incredible experience that I’m very thankful for. I’ve also just finished a wall on Gilbert Street for the lovely people at Jacquillard Minns, and have a few more that i’m drawing up plans for at the moment. Its not normal to be busy, it feels good.


Q: Who would you like to collaborate with next, and in what format?

A: I’m not really thinking about it for the moment, but I love the integration of photography into the dialectics of painting. Some of my favourite paintings ever are the ones that Sterling Ruby exhibited at Xavier Hufkens which used photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe. So in the future a photographer possibly.

Q: Where do you see your art practice taking you in the future?

A: Hopefully somewhere coastal.

Q: Where can we find more of your work?


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