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This artist glues layers of books and burlaps to make unique portraits

Some artists use ink, watercolour, or oil, while others use… hessian sacks?

Kiwi artist Gavin Hurley creates visually unique portraits and paintings of historical figures using a cut and paste style involving old books, textured papers, and as mentioned, burlaps.

Referencing the likes of JFK, Madame Curie, and Queen Elizabeth, the creative layers each material until he comes up with flat collage-portraits that are both accurate and playful.

“All of Hurley’s works play with material and sensation, thick coarse hessian contrasts with heavy underpainting and a meticulous flat finish,” wrote Melanie Roger Gallery.

“The use of flat areas of colour and a general lack of modelling make Hurley’s subjects mask-like. His portraits create a sense of quietude, they are colourful and synthetic with a kind of porcelain decorum.

The gallery concluded: “Hurley’s colourful cast of characters make up a cobbled-together and imperfect history, all of the personages display features that seem as though they may float away, as though they are kept together merely with glue, their hessian supports or collective memory.”

With the help of Sydney-based Susan Boutwell Gallery we were able to get a hold of Gavin Hurley for a short chat. In the interview below, he talks about his path to becoming an artist, his technique, and his artworks. Check it out:

Tell us more about yourself. How did you become an artist?

“I grew up in Mt Wellington, an industrial part of Auckland. It wasn’t a very ‘arty’ place but I still credit it for early influences of domestic suburban art. Velvet paintings were still popular, most neighbours had a Mona Lisa print, and we had door to door salesmen selling palette knife oil landscapes.”

How would you describe your work? And how did you discover this style of yours?

“I describe my work now as a remix of all of the things I’ve made from art school (I graduated in 1999) until now. The art school days were unfocused, I was absorbing a ton of information, learning technical things as well as being surrounded by many talented people.

“I skipped learning about computers back then and still prefer a low tech method of working. I would paint the same portrait over and over, with piles of bones and feet as subjects. I hated life drawing class.

“I’m just as unfocused today but put together in a way that makes more sense. Portraits now make their way into the backgrounds of narrative scenes with men sitting around having meetings depicted as the collage studies they begin as.A recent show at Melanie Roger Gallery is a good example of this.”

Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?

“I don’t really draw much but cut paper instead and move it around before gluing. Sometimes the collages remain as finished pieces, most become studies for larger paintings as templates to add details in later. I still have the voice of one of the art teachers in my head telling me ‘You can’t draw’ (whatever!).”

How long does it usually take for you to complete a painting?

“It can take a week or a month to make a painting plus preparation time. When a show is looming there are several on the go. I prefer the pressure of a deadline. Daydreaming was nice when I was younger but it doesn’t get the work done.”

Is there a theme or message that your works are trying to communicate to their audience?

“I used to think that it was cool to keep history alive with the subjects. I was interested in despite it not being fashionable then. I mix these same portraits and stories with the business guys as it leads more into a conversation.

“They are about my life too, like worries about getting a ‘real job’, corporate takeovers, and having to grow up. Some of these themes were big in 1980’s movies. There is humour in this, although I’m not sure if it’s often recognised.”

What have been your one or two favourite recent projects or commissions?

“A recent project that I was happy to be part of is in Tauranga at a mission house called The Elms. Several artists doing differing disciplines were invited to curate a room each in the house.

“We all learned a lot about this place and its importance to local history, as well as its connections to the other side of the world. I made paintings and collages based on a girl called Sophia who was brought over from England to New Zealand to work for the family.”

Lastly, what are you working on next?

“Next I’m going to clean up the studio as making work is very messy. There are a couple of commissions to complete before Christmas and some new work for Susan Boutwell Gallery in Munich. Hopefully I can make it over as the most satisfying part of what I do is completing the job by helping to install the paintings.”

You can learn more about Gavin Hurley and his work here.

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