For south London-based illustrator and designer Chris Harnan, it’s all about abstraction. Working both digitally and on paper in more traditional media, Chris’ work reduces the world around him to coloured dots and non-pictorial shapes. “I’ve always wanted to reduce, abstract, and simplify everything,” he tells us, “and at the moment this has resulted in a lot of repeat shapes, dots, and patterns.” Through this technique, he replicates familiar scenes and emotions, communicating them in the simplest manner possible, whether this is done on screen or in oil pastel.
It’s both a stylistic but also a conceptual choice. While affecting the visual outcome of his works, in their purest form, abstraction is what his work is about. “I like trying to communicate in alternative ways, using semiotics and operating with basic responses to get emotions and moods,” he explains. “I want to test how dynamic I can make a page, try keeping it streamlined. It’s all about cutting down on the non-essentials, and so that in turn throws up more literal themes and concepts of shedding mental and emotional baggage. No doubt I want to realise what I do with my work in my real life.”
This process is something that has continued to build since Chris went fully self-employed in 2018, after the release of his book World Problem Solution Book. He sees his practice in two halves: digital and traditional. And in the past, they were closely tied together, “there was a back and forth and I would trade between the two.” Since illustration and design became his full-time job, and his means of earning money, that of course has changed somewhat, as he’s adapted to focus more on how he can reliably produce results for clients. The digital side has become “more based in method and decision making,” as a way to remove “a little bit of the chaos for [clients’] sake.”
Making it clear that he’s happy with the work he’s made through this avenue, Chris is currently looking at how he can begin to have the “conversation between the two again” as he gains more confidence working in a commercial setting.
GalleryChris Harnan: Zuczug collaboration
A major project for Chris of late saw him collaborating with Zuczug, a Shanghai-based fashion label, on a line of clothes and stationary for the lunar new year. “It was the biggest operation I’d worked on, challenging the way I approached my work, and balancing the non-creative elements alongside it,” he says. “Creating things people wear and use was really satisfying, and a new challenge in collaborating with people over a long period of time to create something that was mutual.” Using Chris’ signature restricted style, the line features animals, flowers and fruit on everything from scarves to jeans and dresses.
He also contributed ten pages to the fifth edition of French comic book Lagon Revue. Having seen Chris’ graphic design work, the publication asked Chris to experiment with turning that design work into a comic. “It was a really beautifully produced book and the immaculate printing has always been an exciting part of Lagon,” Chris explains. “My part was really the beginning of a way of working that has seen me indulge in patterns, dots and repeating, so I owe a bit to the Lagon team for opening that up to me.”
Finally, he tells us about a momentous milestone in any artist’s career; his first solo show. The exhibition took place in south Bermondsey and saw Chris handling “every aspect of the show, keeping on top of myself for a long time before to ensure it wasn’t a disaster.” While it’s always rewarding to show your work to others, for Chris, this experience was particularly rewarding on an insular level: “I think it was a great step in accepting myself as a working artist, to have success in selling paintings for fair prices and see people turn up to have a look.”
Excitingly, there’s still much more on the horizon for the London-based illustrator and designer who doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Firstly, there’s a new book planned with Breakdown Press, “whenever normal life resumes”. And longer term, a trip to Japan: “I was planning an exhibition in Tokyo, and volunteering at an art skill exchange in Fukushima, but everything has to be kept very short term at the moment.” Keeping our fingers crossed that that plan resumes at some point, for now, Chris concludes, “until then, [I’ll] just create more paintings and drawings, and books.”
Chris Harnan: Genie Love and Riders of Rohan
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.