Marle Women is created to celebrate our philosophy of designing pieces for women of all ages and stages of their lives. We hope each interview inspires you, the same way in which these women do to us.
Here, we speak with artist Henrietta Harris. Based in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa, Henrietta has exhibited widely and has produced artwork for diverse publications and commercial clients. Inspired by work which stirs up emotion, disruptive portraiture is the main theme of Henrietta’s work. When we interviewed her, Henrietta was in a state of her own disruption. Ironic really, given the year we have all experienced, but it wasn’t this year’s events that forced Henrietta to slow down, it’s due to an injury caused by well, not slowing down enough.
She shares with us her approach to work, how she describes her style of art and the best piece of wisdom she carries with her. Insightful and thoughtful, it’s a pleasure to share Henrietta with you as our part of our Marle Women series.
Name: Henrietta Harris
Location: Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa
Can you share a little bit about yourself, your background, and upbringing? What defining aspects have contributed to the way you are today?
I grew up in Kumeu, North-West Auckland, on a vineyard, as my dad gave up being a lawyer to follow his wine-making dreams. My mum is a teacher who encouraged creativity in my siblings and I, so luckily drawing and painting was always encouraged, and was never seen as being a weird career choice. I can’t remember a time where drawing and painting was absent in my life, it’s always just seemed like the obvious thing for me to do.
How do you approach your work? Are there any guiding principles that influence the way you work creatively?
I’m actually in a weird situation currently where I’m having to re-think many things because I gave myself nerve damage from not taking enough breaks, and I have to wear a brace on my painting arm and have a lot of time off. So, I’m spending this time really thinking about how I can be smarter in the future, when I can work again, and how not to overdo it but still create good work. I used to personally pride myself on how prolific I was, but this really has to change.
I have started to approach shows as one body of work instead of them being jumbled, as scenes from the same story. This is probably just a weird time to ask me this exact question as my days are spent very differently at the moment!
Your earliest works were executed on paper and tended to disrupt the usual access point to emotion, the face. What led you to frame your works of art around emotion? How did your artistic creativity evolve from here?
I’ve always been drawn to work which stirs up emotion, that’s the aim of everything I do. Disruptive portraiture is still the main theme of my work, just not always in such a dramatic way as those earlier pieces. I still want to revisit those ideas at some point, I just keep getting distracted by other paintings - for years at a time.
The evolution was natural, I felt like I’d pushed things to a certain point and wanted to try something else but I never completely close the book once I’ve explored something- there’re just only so many hours in a day. Plus I have spent the last few years using oils instead of watercolour which unlocked even more possibilities.
A 2018 residency encouraged you to explore the possibilities of landscape in which you encapsulate the surreal beauty of the environment with a focus of the intense effects of sunlight through the clouds, across mountains, and on water. Have you always expressed admiration for nature?
Yes, I’ve also been painting clouds and mountains for a long time but it was great to be able to have an exhibition dedicated solely to nature. Iceland did remind me a bit of New Zealand as well, so it felt natural.
"I’ve always been drawn to work which stirs up emotion, that’s the aim of everything I do. Disruptive portraiture is still the main theme of my work, just not always in such a dramatic way as those earlier pieces. I still want to revisit those ideas at some point, I just keep getting distracted by other paintings - for years at a time"
Would you say your New Zealand roots have influenced your artwork? If so, how?
I think it’d be impossible for them not to have, being born and raised here, however I do think my work has a universal feeling to it rather than being strictly New Zealand-y.
Have you always been confident in your style of art or is this something you have learnt with age?
Yes I think I have actually, I have always drawn and painted similar subjects, just with varying degrees of skill. I mean, I wasn’t always confident but the ideas and style were already there I think.
How would you describe your personal style? Has it always been this way, or has it evolved over the years?
I refused to wear dresses or skirts from the age of about 11-20, instead wearing my brother and cousin’s old hand-me-downs. A white Noosa, Australia t-shirt with windsurfers on it comes to mind- I wore that until it perished. I now can’t get enough of dresses, I think my style is both quite masculine and feminine- I like classic workwear as well as floaty liberty print dresses. I’ll often model my outfits on versions of men’s clothes I find which suit my body shape, but in summer I find it harder to dress for the heat so live in long breezy dresses.
What is your take on personal ritual? Do you have any non-negotiable morning rituals that set you up for a productive day ahead?
Boringly I guess food and coffee so my brain wakes up, and then I walk to my studio- I’ve never been a morning workout person or anything, I feel like I’m much better at that kind of thing in the afternoons. It is, however, very important to me that I check my phone as soon as I wake, that’s non-negotiable.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
So many places! Reading, photography, colour, grey, phrases, hands, shapes, it all just slides into place eventually.
What do you love most about Marle?
The beautiful fabric! I’ve been wearing the silk Martine trousers all week and they feel incredible.
What is a piece of personal wisdom that you carry with you?
Comparison is the thief of joy - good to remember if I ever start feeling jealous or not good enough. Hard in practice but hey, I try.
Texture or colour?
Summer or winter?
I think anyone who has been around me in the middle of summer knows my answer is… winter.
Most treasured accessory?
A brooch which belonged to my Granny, I wear it to my exhibitions so she’s with me. Asking me why I ruined perfectly good paintings with pink paint.
Images by James Lowe