The man of God with an eye for the Macabre
You can find Rick Harrison on Instagram @hiddenroomart
Q. What part of Mississippi do you live or work in?
A. I live in Hernando, Mississippi. Hernando is located in the extreme northwest part of the state.
Q. Tell us about your background in Art.
A. I attended Murray State University located in Murray, Kentucky. I graduated with a degree in Art Education with an emphasis in studio art. I did commercial art and illustration for a number of years. I was also an art teacher ( the only one!) in my local school system for 15 years.
Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up in rural Western Kentucky in a small town on the Mississippi river called Columbus. I think the kudzu covered bluffs, the implacable river, tales of the thriving town of "Old" Columbus that was lost to the depths of the river and the local tales of murder and Civil War battles created in me a love of Southern Gothic.
Q. What Mediums do you work in?
A. I primarily paint (oils and acrylics), sculpt (water based and polymer clay), and draw ( pen and ink, graphite, colored pencil, pastels, and marker) I also do assemblages with found objects..
Q. Who or what are your biggest influences and why?
A. Well, I have a number of influences. Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Brian Froud, Lee Brown Coye Joseph Cornell, Gustave Klimt, the Pre-Raphaelites, Frank Frazetta, Caravaggio, El Greco, Winslow Homer, Grant Wood, the Wyeths...it goes on and on!
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. I just finished Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin. I'm currently reading a 1940's anthology of ghost stories called, The Fireside Book of Ghost Stories and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson.
Q. What have you been listening to lately?
A. I listen to a lot of podcasts while I work. Primarily podcasts about history, theology, crime and movies. As far as music I listen to Doc Watson, John Hartford, Iris DeMent, Brandi Carlile, Tom Waits, the Beatles, Alison Krausse, the Chieftains, the Black Keys, Creedence, most any of the Blues...and again it goes on and on.
Q. How would you say you navigate through Mississippi's Art scene?
A. Well, I can't really say I do much navigating. I'm pretty much a hermit (especially now with the pandemic!). I enjoy viewing and talking about art, but since I've only lived in Mississippi just a bit over 3 years I haven't met any artists.
Q. Are you following any trends in Art?
A. No, not really. I'm interested in graphic novels, book illustration, and sculpture, but I don't follow any trends in those areas.
Q. What makes you do what you do?
A. Hmm. I don't think I could do anything else. There's an inner drive to create and to create those things that interest me. I have ideas that I have to get out whether on paper, canvas or in clay.
Q. Describe your average work day.
A. I usually do most of my work between 10:30 p.m. - 3:00 a.m. Weird work hours, but it's quiet and I can work undisturbed. I'm retired so I don't have to worry about getting up early.
Q. What do you think is integral to the work of an Artist?
A. Passion, diligence, growth, being true to oneself!
Q. What role do you see your art playing in society?
A. Well, I would hope that people who view my art might have their imaginations stimulated and maybe get a glimpse of other worlds.
Q. Has your Art practice changed over time?
A. Oh yes! My early work was extremely detailed, now my work isn't nearly as detailed. I've gotten older and more lazy!
Q. What Art do you identify with most and why?
A. Illustration and Illustrators. N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Michael Kaluta, and Bernie Wrightson.
Q. Tell me about a memory from your childhood.
A. When I was around 7 or 8 I watched Jon Gnagy on television. His show was called Learn to Draw and I was absolutely mesmerized by him. His premise was that anyone could learn to draw by using simple forms and utilizing basic elements and principles of art. I became a disciple. I would sit in front of our little black and white television and follow along doing the best that I could with the materials at hand. It was magic!
Q. Tell me about any themes you pursue in your Art.
A. Noir, Southern Gothic, Gothic.
Q. What has been your scariest experience in the Art world?
A. Scariest? Well not many of those! However, I remember several years ago discovering the International Science Fiction Database and realizing that it covered artists as well as authors. I searched my name and was shocked to discover that I had work published that I knew nothing about. The biggest shocker was that I had two illustrations published in a prestige collection of artists influenced by Stephen King titled Knowing Darkness: Artists Inspired by Stephen King. I contacted the publishers of all my unauthorized pieces, but none of them responded. I finally managed to track down a copy of Knowing Darkness on EBay. It cost an arm and a leg, but at least I have a copy of this massive book containing my illustrations.
Q. What has been your most positive experience in the Art world?
A. I think the positive reception that my work has received on the internet, particularly on Instagram.
Q. Tell us about a real life situation that inspired you to create.
A. My dad loved tending his fruit trees and garden. Near the end of his life he developed an autoimmune disease that was challenging and ultimately insurmountable. I sculpted a piece that was cast in bronze that I felt captured both aspects of his last days.
Q. What jobs have you held other than being an Artist?
A. I pastored a church for 33 years and I was an elementary and high school art teacher for 15 years.
Q. Have any of your past job experiences helped you in being an Artist today?
A. I think being a pastor has helped me understand the importance of clear communication. I'm a big believer in getting an idea or mood across as clearly as possible. Being an art teacher has helped me with spontaneity, an acceptance of mistakes, and a willingness to experiment and to think outside of the box.
Q. Why Art?
A. Art is the most basic form of communication. Art allows us to communicate ideas, feelings, hopes, and dreams.
Q. What memorable responses have you had to your work?
A. On the positive side, when someone tells me that I've tapped into their imagination and they feel at home with my work. On the negative side, when someone asks why do I choose the subject matter that is common to my work. Why don't I create art about flowers, birds, barns, etc
Q. What is your favorite type of food and your favorite place to get it?
A. I love Indian cuisine! My favorite places to get it are The Curry Bowl and Mayuri Indian Cuisine both in Memphis.
Q. What makes you angry?
A. Injustice, Hypocrisy, Intolerance, Racism.
Q. What research do you do for your work?
A. I do a great deal of internet searching for reference. I have thousands of saved images that I use on a regular basis.
Q. Tell us about your dream project.
A. Hmm. I don't think I have a dream project, but I would like to have a kiln, and a screen printing station.
Q. Name 3 artists that you would like to be compared to.
A. Oh wow! I don't think my work is even in the same galaxy, but any comparison to Michael Kaluta or Bernie Wrightson would be heady stuff.
Q. What is the best piece of advice that you have been given?
A. To work, work, work, and when I don't feel like it, work! To always be about creating.
Q. What is some advice that you would give to a younger you?
A. To simplify and to work every day.
Q. What couldn't you live without?
A. My faith, my family, coffee.
Q. What do you do to stay motivated?
A. I just work on my art regardless of how I feel.
Q. What's your favorite color?
A. Green. The color of life and growth!
Q. Has rejection ever affected your creative process?
A. No. It hurts, but I just forge on.
Q. Describe your work space to us.
A. I work in a large studio that is upstairs in my house. One wall is lined with bookcases filled to overflowing with books and popular culture tchotchkes, on the opposite wall is my drawing table and work counter which receives the north light. There are shelves all around room that hold sculptures, models, and books.
Q. What is your creative process like?
A. I try to write down ideas as they come to me. I get my ideas from books, movies, and my childhood memories. I sit down and sketch out ideas and proceed from there.
Q. How do you know when something you have been working on is finished?
A. Ha! Good question! I suppose when I get that feeling that I don't need to add anything more. It feels right to me.
Q. What is the best thing about being an Artist?
A. Being able to create. To externalize an internal idea or feeling.
Q. How much time does it take you to complete a project?
A. It varies based on the complexity of the projects. Most drawings take about 6-8 hours. Paintings and sculptures take longer.
Q. Do you have any habits that help your creative process?
A. I'm a night owl and I find that I work best late and am most creative at night.
Q. How would you classify or categorize your work?
A. As for genres it falls into the categories of fantasy, horror, and adventure.
Q. Why do you think Art is important?
A. Art allows us to get a glimpse of other worlds whether those world are the past, the future or the present from another's perspective. It allows the internal world of the artist to be revealed.
Q. What is your most important tool in your studio?
A. My drawing board.
Q. Is there an element of art that you enjoy working with most?
Q. Have you always had support in your art career?
A. Yes, even when I was young and single my parents supported my career in art. My wife and children have always been supportive of my art.
Q. If you could live during any artistic period what would it be and why?
A. I think it would be exciting to live and work during the golden age of illustration 1870-1920.
Q. How would you like to be remembered?
A. Hopefully as a man who loved God, his family, his church, his students and making art.
Q. What do you do to get into the creative zone?
A. Read, study the works of other artists, look at nature, meditate.
Q. Tell us about your favorite accomplishment.
A. Outside of art, I would have to say being a husband and father. With regard to art I would have to say being included in Knowing Darkness: Artists Influenced by Stephen King. It was an honor to be included in that monumental prestige publication.
Q. Do you ever hide hidden messages or meanings in your work?
A. No, not really.
Q. Do you enjoy sharing your work with the public and why?
A. Yes I do. I enjoy sharing my work with kindred spirits who love the genres that I address in my art.
Q. Who do you define as visionary?
A. William Blake, Bosch, Rick Griffin
Q. Tell us something about yourself that everyone should know.
A. While my art is often described as dark, macabre, strange, scary or horrific, I'm not. I am a very positive, normal person.
Q. If you could choose a theme song for your life what would it be?
A. Great is Thy Faithfulness.
Q. If you created work that had an odor, what do you think it would smell like and why?
A. Ha ha! Based on much of my subject matter I would be afraid to hazard a guess! But I love patchouli!
Q. Do you think creativity is human nature or learned behavior?
A. Hmm. Hard one! I think it's both. Some are born with an innate creativity, while others have a creativity that is cultivated and nurtured by practice and instruction.
Q. Do you listen to any podcasts?
A. Oh yeah, quite a few. Lore, Snap Judgment, Throughline, Gilbert Gottfried, Crime Junkie, Reformed Forum to name just a few.
Q. If you had 24 hours to live how would you spend the day?
A. I would spend it with my family.
Q. When was the first time you realized you were creative?
A. I think around the fifth or sixth grade.
Q. Do you ever feel like you have to censor your work or ideas?
A. No not really. I avoid some themes or images out of personal preference.
Q. How would you define creativity?
A. I think creativity is the ability to express an idea in a unique and personal way.
Q. Who is the most creative person you have ever known?
A. I've known so many! Two stand out. My first drawing instructor Dale Leys and my sculpture instructor Steve Bishop.
Q. How did you choose your creative outlet?
A. I think it chose me. I was always able to draw and pardon the pun, I was drawn to it.
Q. Does spirituality and culture play a role in your work?
A. Yes spirituality. I'm a Christian and a retired pastor so those elements have an enormous impact on my work.
Q. How do you deal with creative block?
A. I just try to work through it. I've never thought much of the idea of waiting for inspiration to strike. It's been my experience that if I work diligently the creative juices begin to flow.
Q. Do you normally have an idea before you start working?
A. Usually. I have some kind of idea as to what I want the piece to look like once it's finished. However, the end result is almost always different from what I had pictured in my mind.
Q. If you were no longer able to use the mediums you do now, what would you turn to?
A. I've thought about that. I think I would turn to writing.
Q. Are your favorites from your work typically the ones liked by your audience?
A. Sometimes, but sometimes I'm surprised by what the majority of people like.
Q. What has your greatest sacrifice been for your craft?
A. Well, I don't think I've had to make any great sacrifice. I've been very blessed.
Q. If you could work with anyone (living or dead) who would it be and why?
A. I would love to have worked with Grant Wood.
Q. Have you had any life events that have changed or affected your style or subject matter?
A. No, not really.
Q. Are there any other channels you use to express your creativity?
A. I've designed buildings, logos, signs, and emblems. I was the art director for a magazine for a brief time. I designed, helped build and ran several haunted attractions.
Q. How do you differ from other Artists in your genre?
A. I think my style is pretty different for most others. I'm pretty obsessed with detail and texture.
Q. Is there anything you would like to tell those who are thinking of pursuing a career in the Arts?
A. Be prepared to work hard!
Make sure to follow @hiddenroomart on Instagram to see all of Rick's latest work, purchasing and commissions
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