Thursday, February 15, 2007

Harry Pye, Harry Pye, Harry Pye

Harry Pye can't paint for toffee. I'm looking at some of his work at the opening for his Me, Me, Me show at Sartorial Contemporary Art and I'm thinking, thank you, Harry, because at last, finally, now, I can splutter that staunch old tabloid favorite in my next sentence.
This work looks like it could've been done by a five year old!
(Ah ha!)
Oh no, wait, hang on, sorry, in this case, it actually has been.
The three paintings which hang in the entrance corridor tonight were all painted by Harry when he was about five years old - maybe a year later or so, but not much more than that. They are painted in splodges and daubs of colour and are titled in a teacher's steady and patient hand with things like 'We have P.E. on Monday' and 'Me in my garden'. Later, in the corner of a very crowded (Harry knows a lot of people - he's got over 750 friends on his myspace for a start) and very hot gallery upstairs I ask Harry about them. He confirms they are from his school days and also, and this is just one of those facts which can never leave you once you know, 'that brown blob in the picture is Richard Reid, the shoebomber. We went to the same school.' Sometimes life arranges itself in such a way that you can wonder about yourself, the world and your place in it, simply by a looking at a single moment from your past, while the intervening years explode loudly around you with revelation and horror and surprise. (Later, on the way out, I stand and look at the two blobs in the picture: 'Self portrait with shoebomber' I think).
In the gallery there are lots of Harry's more recent paintings. And despite the twenty five year gap from the ones in the hall they don't look all that different. Except that he has an unusual way of juxtaposing different styles into one image. Oh no wait, hang on, sorry, no he doesn't. 'I get other people to paint the bits I can't,' he says. He points to a small self portrait (that one, just behind his head, up there at the top of this - it's called 'Where's the party?'). He says he did the face then a friend of his, Rowland Smith, drew the cans of Fosters (as you can see from the photo above, Harry does indeed like Fosters). There's also a small blue dog just in the front of the picture with a sausage in its mouth. I think someone else painted that too. It looks too painful... Harry points to other paintings, picks out other peoples work, where they have painted what he felt he couldn't. So, that's what I've picked up with this strange stylistic thing in his paintings before. He didn't actually paint bits of them.
Later on I read the small catalogue which has been published for this exhibition. Harry has written his own essay in it. The prose is innocent, simple, honest, engaging and knowingly naive. Just like his paintings, I think. They are endearing and interesting and they evidence an intelligent and sensitive mind.
In one of his works two fish are swimming along, one saying 'My therapist says I crave recognition rather than actual accomplishment.' You see, Harry's not stupid. He knows what he's doing. As well as all the paintings - there's about twenty of them (and I think he appears in pretty much every single one) - there's an hour of tv that he's made, though the noise of the chattering crowd prevents me from hearing it, and there's his publication, The Rebel, and, although I don't see this anywhere tonight, I know he's also done five copies of a handwritten autobiography, called My Strugggle; and then there's the shows he's curated over the years, the fanzines he's produced (I said before about being interviewed back in the day for Harry Pye's Frank Magazine) and all the other art and writing he's done...
The title of this show is Me, Me, Me. Though I'm not convinced. I don't think Harry's work is really about him. I think Harry's work is about the possible existence of Harry Pye. And in order for Harry Pye to exist he needs to be seen to exist. Painting, television, writing, publishing. It's pretty much all the same in the end, as long as it serves to continue the existence of and propel the ongoing history of Harry Pye. Don't forget those paintings in the hallway. He's got them hanging down there without any sense of irony. I'm not sure there's many other artists that could show their school paintings like this and get away with it. But they are as much a part of 'Harry Pye' as his most recent stuff. They are, in the end, equally valid. It doesn't really matter how Harry paints - or who does the painting - or even if there are any paintings at all for that matter - as long as whatever there is is about the person who is Harry Pye.
In some of the info to the show Harry says: 'Maybe I make the work I do because I'm trying to kill off a part of me I don't like or a person I'm in danger of turning into. The battle is still being fought and I'll only know when the dust settles.'
It's a good quote, but I don't think the dust will ever settle. There's no resolution with identity. The battle itself is who you are.
In the end, Harry Pye, it's all just me, me, me.

Pye pics


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