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Gallery: Harry Matthews' visionary artworks

14 April 2010

Survivor artists often share similar reasons for making artwork. Harry Matthews talks candidly about his artistic process

Colour drawing of Man Pissing Against Wall

Man Pissing Against Wall. Ink and Watercolour Wash (August 2009) © Harry Matthews

After several years of mental illness I wonder where I would be without the opportunity to express myself in paint and ink. People get quite embarrassed when you talk about deep feelings and different realities.

However, I’m sure we all see pictures in clouds, in the rhythms of landscape and in trees. I am so delighted and intrigued by these things. I have an urge to share my experiences with other people. Art is a less embarrassing vehicle for expression. This is because I look at the familiar and see it from another point of view. ‘Do you see that man in the tree?’ is now a title for a painting rather than something I say to a bewildered passer by!

I’d like to call my type of art poetic. Yes, they are painterly abstractions, but they are also poems written in paint, possibly even prayers, and in some cases ‘exorcisms’.

A small bit of creativity seems to have been given to me, during my mental illness, since it forced me to explore a particular gift, rather than get frustrated by it. But to have it is one thing. I’ve learned, I must work consciously to develop it, even if a lot of my art happens automatically or even spontaneously.

Where do my pictures come from, you ask? Well, the simple answer is that they come from inside me, from my artistic imagination. However, it is also the case that they are a response to the world outside. It is the interaction between the inner and outer life, that is the source of my paintings; the ‘in-scape’ and ‘out-scape’.

The greatest pleasure in exploring creativity, is in sharing and having my vision appreciated and understood by someone else.

I could write whole aesthetic tracts of pretentious nonsense about alternative dimensions from the fourth to the tenth, the astral and etheric planes, tree devas, sylphs, nymphs, pure psychic automatism, psychological pareidolia and apopheria bordering on schizophrenic withdrawal, sophisticated Rorschach tests for the collective unconscious, channelling, alternative, subatomic, invisible and transcendental realities; and the all too romantic notions of the artist as a mad man.

However, I will not conjure up any more apoplexy. The paintings speak for themselves. Let the viewer decide or not!