A portrait painter once removed....
It’s always fine weather within the playful and irreverent works by Auckland-based artist Gavin Hurley. Since graduating from the Elam School of Fine Arts, Hurley has exhibited his handsome paintings and works on paper nationally and internationally in dealer galleries as well as public art institutions. Wistful boys, colonial figures and mid-century men earnestly at work have all been captured by Hurley with an endearing sense of simplicity, quietude and impudence.
Gavin was interviewed over tumblers of cava in the upstairs room of vintage store Flotsam and Jetsam run by his partner Cameron Woodcock.
VWJ: I was wondering how you find a point of departure when you begin a new work…
GH: Well, usually totally de-cluttering the studio. And then going to a second-hand bookshop and starting again. But often with what Cameron does, I’m always on the trail of second-hand things and at any market we get to go to I’m always picking up reference material.
VWJ: And what is it about this second-hand material that intrigues you?
GH: I think I put a lot of it down to moving around a lot when I was young and not really holding onto things. I think I found other people’s things more interesting. It’s more about histories and personal histories. And periods too, looking at the time I was born, I’ve looked a lot at the ‘70s… not the décor! I’m not a fan of retro. But I’m a big fan of the magazines, like Life magazines and the Boy’s Own Annuals and the kind of Young Mechanic things that you find.
VWJ: And how do you use these materials to generate new works?
GH: I think a lot of it is over-collecting. And then categorising and editing down. Thinking about the work I’ve made before and maybe the point like you mentioned earlier, departures. But then often coming back to exactly what I think I’ve done in a show I’ve done before but then wanting to make it better.
VWJ: Working with both collage and oil painting, do you find your two processes have anything in common?
GH: I just find with collage, I use quite blunt scissors and layer the paper and cut it at the same time. And I like that it shifts and does things I’m not expecting. Usually when I come to gluing the paper it doesn’t go down the way I expected it to and it’s so frustrating while that’s happening but the end result’s usually quite good. I accept the things that went wrong, but not until it’s finished. Lately I’m making more paintings that are direct references from the collages… it’s so different, the texture of the paper you can never really get back into the paint. But I just use it as a guide for every colour or shape…
VWJ: And also the gaps between the shapes?
GH: The gaps between the shapes. But often the gaps between the shapes have to be scratched into the painting. And that’s probably the only part of the painting that’s free-hand. And that again can be a disaster on the day and on the day after quite a nice surprise. It’s like “I did that!” rather than using this thing as a guide. Something slightly skew-whiff…
Interview: Victoria Wynne Jones
‘Thomas Matthews – Roving Eye,’ 2015 (oil on linen, 1000 x 800mm)
"I sort of admire people that do anything that seems free to me, going back to that collaging thing I just don’t feel if I left chance up to it that I could ever be free"
VWJ: You’ve also had some very strong collaborations with other artists.
GH: I sort of admire people that do anything that seems free to me, going back to that collaging thing I just don’t feel if I left chance up to it that I could ever be free. And I think watching people like Sam Mitchell working, it would just take me all day to think about what she can do in seconds. That’s something that you usually lose when you go to art schools and they tell you that you’re terrible at drawing, or that your work looks like a two-year old did it.
VWJ: Speaking of art school, what are some of your reflections on recent art school graduates?
GH: I do go to all that I can of the exhibitions that they put on at the schools. I try and take someone with me so we can talk about that as we’re going through. If it’s at Elam we go and get a coffee from the coffee machine that was there when I was at school, just to feel like we’re back there again. And we visit all the studios and you’re seeing too much work so you don’t know what to think of half of it. But you often stop and respond to things… I don’t know, I think it takes maybe five years since seeing them coming out of the school to figuring them out. I really like Amy Unkovich’s work.
VWJ: And when you visit other artists’ exhibitions is display something that you pay particular attention to?
GH: I think so. I think a lot of the time I take my glasses off and I squint and I sort of, if I feel there’s something out of balance I’m quite drawn to it and that’s not a bad thing.
VWJ: You have mentioned that you often address the theme of ‘growing up’ and I was wondering what it is about the theme that captivates you?
GH: Generally I’m referencing my self and this point where life became quite different and interesting. I’m sure it’s the same for most people through puberty, it’s just an interesting age. I’m just drawn to growing, growing up. If I walk into a bookstore and I see ‘boy’ in the title I’m right there to see what the book is about.
VWJ: How important do you think it is that art has a sense of humour?
GH: I think it’s so important that if I’m collecting anything it really has to be humorous. Looking at the other artists I admire I just think usually what I respond to is humorous. I mean graffiti, penis graffiti is the most refreshing thing you can see if you’re walking around the streets. Especially if they’re trying very hard to work the shapes in with a manhole or an object on the street. That’s possibly one of the funniest things. I’m sure there are books about that.
‘Pocket,’ 2013 (unique paper collage, 380 x 280mm)
‘Men at Work,’ 2014 (oil on linen, 450 x 350mm)