Robert Hardgrave (previously featured in HF Vol. 8) is an intriguing artist from the Northwest, basing his studio out of Seattle, WA. Hardgrave is a self-developed artist with a wide range of techniques under his belt. Previously known for his colorful free-form painting style, he has moved forward and has allowed his experimentations to dictate his progression into a new visual realm. Though he took a step away from pursuing showing his work in galleries and filling his calendar with a demanding schedule of exhibitions, he never ceased his creative stream of art creation. The artist gives us an exclusive peek into his studio, as he is currently working on a new technique of large-scale photocopy collage transfers. Hardgrave explains how this shift occurred and how it has renewed his passion for making new work.
Thanks for taking time out of making new work to talk to us. So tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to since we last talked with you. You have some new technique, if I’m not mistaken – how did that manifest?
Since we last spoke I had a 4-year stint where I was doing a lot of sewing. It began with collage; sewing shapes together and ended with me drawing with the sewing machine. In 2013 it sort of worked its way out of me. I then focused on making a ton of drawings, thoroughly enjoying the small-scale work. As with the ebb and flow of painting I began to crave large work again. Late summer and fall last year I began big paintings on sheer curtains I found at the thrift store. It was the sheer that I was interested in. Then I went to an exhibit where my friend Tim Cross was making these toner transfers on silk. I went to his studio to see how he was working with the silk, but fell in love with his process. I adopted that technique and ran with it. I have been playing with it for almost a year now. It is a fascinating process where it encompasses drawing, paper cutting, collage, printmaking and sculpting all in one practice. The possibilities continue to open themselves up to me. I imagine working with this way for a long while. It has allowed me to work somewhat larger again and I am excited about making work again!
That’s so interesting, so what was it about the previous work you were doing that you needed to take a break from and get some perspective?
Well with the drop in the economy, working with galleries became too burdensome; moving work became difficult for the galleries and me. I became uninterested in doing solo exhibits any longer unless they were local. I never stopped making work, but started doing a lot more experimenting, exploring with different media and found things I was more interested in rather than painting. Textiles and fabrics became my muse.
How do you go about beginning a new piece? Do you have an idea already in mind, or do you just start working with materials or drawings to find the departure point?
I really don’t plan my work. I of course have a “way” of making things, but if there is an inkling of an idea it is just that. Lately I have been working from the paintings of others as a departure point, which is as close to having an idea as I get. Mostly I am simply borrowing the composition. Photography has worked its way into my work in an indirect manner, and it’s just done with my telephone. I collect materials that I have made or shot to build the work. I have a rule that I can’t use found imagery; it has to all come from me. Psychologically it works for me since the work is made intuitively. I feel it’s a more honest way of working. Or maybe I’m just crazy.
I get the feeling that you’re creating these works primarily to entertain something personal for your own well being, not for any exhibitions or commercial interests. Would that be correct? And if that’s the case, do you give more thought or different attention to a public work than you would one of your free explorations?
You are right. I don’t really consider the work to be exhibited or used commercially. I make what I want to see. It’s not really by choice but just how it happens. I go where the work takes me. It’s much more enjoyable than trying to “plan” an exhibit. Luckily there are other ways to get by than just showing in galleries.
If I do work with a gallery it needs to be with someone that is interested in allowing my personal meanderings take whichever form they may. It’s difficult to find folks with that sensibility. I’m more selective than I used to be. I’m looking for good relationships.
Life is one free exploration. I however choose to spend most of my time in the studio making stuff.
When do you think your most prolific time of day or week is? Is there any difference in the best times to work, or when the ideas or inspirations are most vivid?
The late afternoon and evening are the best times to dig in. I typically get up around 7-8am and work for 4-6 hours. Then I take the afternoon off and get back to it around 4-5pm and work for 2-4 hours. It also depends on how the work is going. If something is clicking there isn’t a break and I work on through the day. The work is always the dictator.
What is an obstacle that you’ve overcome as an artist? Are there any things in your life as an artist that have made you stronger as a person and helped your art grow?
Depression has been a huge obstacle. I think that is just from being human, not necessarily because I’m an artist. There have been times where I haven’t been able to function in the world effectively and just sank deep into my work. It gets dark in there sometimes. I have taken multiple steps to rise above that which has helped tremendously. I feel my work is stronger for it and I am looking forward instead of replaying the past. New chapters are being discovered.
That being said, are there any lessons that you’ve learned that you could pass on to the younger generation of artists as they begin their journeys?
My only advice would not to get wrapped up in the fame, money or having a lot of exhibits. It holds no value. Enjoy making work that you enjoy being around. If you are having fun it shows. Often the slow road is more rewarding.
Are there any exhibitions or places that people can see these beautiful creations in person in the near future? Anything on the horizon?
I was fortunate to be nominated for a Neddy award this year. I will be exhibiting some of my new work in an upcoming exhibition this September here in Seattle at the Cornish College of the Arts. Beyond that the future is wide open. Anything can happen.