Frame 61

Henry Hussey

Frame 61
Henry Hussey

"I come to textiles from a masculine perspective and the Workers Union Banners are a cornerstone to this."


Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?

I studied at the Royal College of Art and graduated in 2013. This was a formative experience and laid the foundations of my practice. Specialising in textiles I explored the dramatic and powerful narratives which could be expressed in the medium. 

I had been making stylized work so at the RCA I sought to break out of this cycle by making deeply personal work that I hoped resonated with the viewer. Over the past three years I have sought to get to the core facets which define my character and the aspects that cause me turbulence - coming to the conclusion that work purely about myself will become monotonous so choose to broaden my perspective to focus on wider social and political unrest.

Reliquaries, Coates & Scarry Gallery, 2016

Reliquaries, Coates & Scarry Gallery, 2016

Your tapestries remind us of old Worker’s Union banners, full of symbolism and history. Could you explain some of the symbolism in your work, have you created your own world with a cult/religion/history?   

I come to textiles from a masculine perspective and the Workers Union Banners are a cornerstone to this. They carry the weighted heritage and integrity of the past generations who carried these enigmatic symbols proudly. Each element within these banners has an entrenched significance and this coveted quality has directly inspired my own compositions.

Equally the banners that appeared during the Miners Strikes are some of the most passionate and unrefined objects I have ever seen as they were made hastily without any notion of artistic merit. Distilling the message down to the purest form to be as direct and confrontational as possible. I endeavour to remove as many barriers between the viewer and myself by having my imagery instantly striking.

Could you talk about the use of digital tapestry? Do you feel working digitally has given you more freedom to work on a larger scale?

I define my pieces as contemporary tapestries as they utilise modern techniques and are a combination of weaving, dyeing, embroidery, screen-printing and digital-printing. The incorporation of digital processes into my practice has been hugely liberating. This is most apparent with digital printing onto fabrics, as I am able to create imagery on paper then scan and manipulate this into whatever fashion suits my purpose. This exchange of processes gives the works an internal dialogue - the traditional and contemporary techniques amplify each other to create an arresting and tactile visual. A key part of my practice now is working with artisans. I am invigorated by how their interpretation of my imagery and the mark making is transformed by their hands, giving it a new lease of life.

Solidarity, 2016, 110x210cm

The North, 2016, 110x210cm

What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?

As a society we are connected by common traits and sentiments so when delving into my own experiences it is my intention that the viewer equally can draw their own parallels and have the work envelope them. Even when the works focus on my innermost struggles I strive that there is room for interpretation and encourage the viewer to find their own thoughts and feelings in the events unfolding. Practicing in a static medium I acknowledge the fact that the viewer can simply bypass my work so I make the conscious decision to build a sense of spectacle into the pieces so they are cannot be ignored. Instead they force a reaction from the viewer as it challenges them to engage with the narrative and bring their own memories to the forefront.

Could you talk about your process?

In the initial phases of my works I stage performance pieces between actors and myself in order to capture genuine emotion and the pathos expressed between the both of us. I create skeleton scripts which act as a guideline for the topics we will discuss in order to get us to a heightened state in which we can access the emotions that I want us to explore. This gives me the raw and unbridled material that underpins the pieces created, as all of the imagery and dialogue is instinctive, revealing the thoughts and responses we never knew existed. From this I create the paintings and drawings of these intense encounters then constructing the compositional elements around these to give gravitas and momentum to the work.

Lamentation, 2016, 155x155cm

Purging, 2016, 155x155cm

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?

The works I create are labour-intensive pieces that consume a great deal of time. I would liken my method to that of a production manager, as each day I will orchestrate the tasks that need to be completed in order to get closer to the finished work. Whether this is dyeing fabrics, creating imagery or meeting with technicians, these all accumulate and give shape to my artistic practice. How a work is originally envisioned is rarely set in stone as the undertaking and experimenting with processes is what ultimately comes to define the piece. There are days though that are surges of creativity which verge on sanctification and it is in these moments I get to the purest incarnation of my work and what I endeavour to capture.

How do you go about naming your work?

Most frequently it is a word or a term that continuously reoccurs throughout the making of a piece, which then comes to define the work and would seem unnatural to title it anything differently. There is the sensation of an epiphany when the perfect name for a work strikes you and all the thoughts you encountered at each pivotal moment crystallises and the piece projects a newfound presence. I give the majority of my works one-word titles as they are heavily text orientated and it would seem perplexing to then add more content. The name then encapsulates all of the revelations unveiled giving it a defined form and an identity that exists to an extent is removed from me.

The Last Breath, 2016, 85x60cm

The Last Breath (detail)

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

As opposed to a single artwork the last exhibition to have me completely enthralled was Rory Menage at The Averard Hotel, which is an incredible space and their best use of it to date. The show was themed on the poem Ozymandias and focused on the demise of kings and lost empires. The sculptures throughout the space were reminiscent of fallen icons and the disintegrating figureheads of dead monarchs. The space is a decaying structure and falling apart so the dialogue between this and the works was flawless, creating an utterly engrossing experience. This to an extent is where I would like to pursue my own work down the avenue of installation based pieces, so the surroundings play a far more significant part in how the work is perceived.

What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about? 

In December I am exhibiting at Context Art Miami with Coates and Scarry where I will be in a presentation with the Australian artist Penny Byrne. Moving forward I think the growing politicised nature of my own work will become a key focus of mine. I recently went to a production of Richard III with Ralph Fiennes playing the lead and saw him as a manifestation of the worst parts of England being this crooked, corrupt and malevolent creature. I would be fascinated to explore the mistrust and perpetual frustration we have for our leaders. In conjunction with this I plan to explore sculptural forms and installation based mediums further in order to achieve increasingly atmospheric and imposing work.

Artist website

Publishing date of this interview: 12/08/16