John Har­ris

The clas­sic sci-fi artist re­veals how med­i­ta­tion took his work to new heights

ImagineFX - - Contents - John Har­ris John is a Bri­tish artist who, in­spired by mind­ful­ness, has cre­ated stun­ning sci-fi art since the 1970s. You can see some more of his art at­harr.

Was there ever a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant paint­ing that changed ev­ery­thing for you?

I can’t re­mem­ber any one epiphany re­gard­ing a par­tic­u­lar paint­ing un­til long af­ter I left art col­lege. I just grew into be­ing an artist re­ally. And that was in­sep­a­ra­ble from an­other thing: a con­tem­pla­tive life. These two things merged to­gether in my 20s and have re­mained that way. One sus­tains the other. Part of that was a love of space sci­ence and in­evitably I came across Ch­es­ley Bon­estell and his won­der­fully at­mo­spheric land­scapes. What’s the ap­peal of de­pict­ing space, and hu­mans in re­la­tion to it? That’s a ques­tion that goes to the heart of why I’m an artist. I can’t re­mem­ber a time when I wasn’t phys­i­cally and men­tally stirred by ‘the vast’. I al­ways felt it as a sen­sa­tion in the body. Men­tally, I as­so­ci­ated it with the fu­ture. It filled me with elec­tric­ity. This en­ergy sparked off im­agery in my mind, which I wanted to share.

Did med­i­ta­tion in­flu­ence your art? I can‘t over­state the ef­fect the prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion had on the art. Be­fore I started the prac­tice, in 1970, I had been un­able to for­mu­late the feel­ings of the vast into any co­her­ent ex­pres­sion, but af­ter about five years of liv­ing and breath­ing that prac­tice, it quite sud­denly be­came clear as to how to pro­ceed. It’s now sec­ond na­ture to trans­late those feel­ings into im­agery. What was your first paid com­mis­sion, what’s the last piece that you fin­ished, and what’s the main dif­fer­ence tech­ni­cally and the­mat­i­cally? My first paid com­mis­sion of any con­se­quence was the trio of paint­ings in Alien Land­scapes, pub­lished by Pier­rot Pub­lish­ing in 1979. My lat­est com­mis­sion was from Berkley Books, for Jack McDe­vitt, called Com­ing Home (see above). Tech­ni­cally, it dif­fers in medium, be­ing in oils on can­vas in­stead of shel­lac inks on paper. Broader, more painterly maybe, but not much dif­fer­ent from the first, and the­mat­i­cally call­ing on the same per­cep­tions I’ve al­ways had – of at­mos­phere, scale and space.

Have you any paint­ing rit­u­als?

I have no paint­ing rit­u­als to speak of,

I can­not over­state the ef­fect that the prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion had on my art

ex­cept chuck­ing the cat out of the stu­dio. I love her re­ally, but her hairs do man­age to get every­where. Where's the coolest place that your job has taken you? With­out doubt, a com­mis­sion that took me to watch a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral has to be a high. How did the in­vite by NASA to paint the launch come about? In 1984 I went to the States for the first time. That spring I’d had the priv­i­lege of meet­ing Arthur C Clarke in Sri Lanka, and there I met a friend of his, Fred­die Du­rant III. It was he who sug­gested I con­tact NASA and show my work to them. So while I was liv­ing in Colorado, I took a trip south and vis­ited the NASA head­quar­ters in Hous­ton. I left some slides with them and when I re­turned home to the UK there was an in­vi­ta­tion wait­ing for me. How has the in­dus­try of fan­tasy and sci-fi art changed over the years? The state of sci-fi and fan­tasy art is a con­tentious is­sue. It’s a hugely var­ied in­dus­try, but more and more now, I see the level of tech­ni­cal abil­ity go­ing through the roof. If I do have a gripe, it’s that the in­flu­ence of the comic strip tends to dom­i­nate the in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly in film. How­ever, this realm of art also of­fers the max­i­mum free­dom, with the dis­ci­pline of re­main­ing ac­ces­si­ble to its pub­lic.

com­ing home John Har­ris’s cover for Jack McDe­vitt’ novel Com­ing Home, due out in Novem­ber 2014.

Spin­dizzy John’s paint­ing of Spin­dizzy (an anti-grav­ity de­vice), from James Blish’s Cities in Flight om­nibus.

Eclipse over a Crys­tal Plain “Pas­tel rough. This shows how a sketch can have a vi­tal­ity the fin­ished piece may never at­tain.”

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