Studio Visits: Robert Jackson Harrington
Pocket, lap, public library
"I don't really have a studio," freely admits Robert Jackson Harrington, "in that I don't have a dedicated space to make artwork. My studio is my lap." Kept in brown envelopes and milk crates, Harrington's substantial archive of drawings is tucked away in the small Eastside home he shares with his wife and daughter. During our visit, he spread out a generous group of these works on paper: small collages of low-riders and monster trucks strapped down with brightly colored strips of paper, delicate groupings of striated poles rendered in graphite, and press materials for an upcoming art-experiment concocted in coordination with the Yarborough branch of the Austin Public Library and the Drawing Center in New York. To be sure, Harrington has a sculptural practice as well, binding and suspending the detritus of every day industry in tightly balanced groups. Just imagine if Home Depot took a conceptual art class. Yeah.
Robert Jackson Harrington: When I first started working with that kind of sculpture, I didn't consider them sculptures really, but rather a hybrid of sculpture and installation. They're adaptable and modular, to fit different spaces. I do preparatory drawings and I have a pretty good idea of how the work is going to come out.
Austin Chronicle: Portability seems to be a big issue in your work. I know, for example, your Museum of Pocket Art ...
RJH: Well, I'm originally from El Paso, and I did my undergraduate studies there. But there were no real art opportunities, no galleries to show at – so I needed a space and decided to create the Museum of Pocket Art. I always liked the idea that we create spaces, and it was initially created to give people a space to show. The artwork could be no bigger than a business card. But I was afraid that I would become the Pocket Art guy, and I always considered it a side project, as I never put my own art in it.
AC: But that seems like that ethos carries over into your drawing practice, especially in terms of how small your drawings are.
RJH: Intimate. Yeah. I've always worked that way two-dimensionally. I learned how to draw by copying comics. And I loved drawing Garfield because he was easy to reproduce; I couldn't draw Charlie Brown.
AC: Yes! There's actually a short essay by Chris Ware where he reckons with the difficulty of drawing Charles Schulz's characters.
RJH: What I think is amazing is that Schulz used a specific pen nib, and the manufacturer quit making them, so Schulz bought out the rest of the stock from the manufacturer. As a young child, I never thought about nib differences. I was focused on more basic desires. When I was six, one of my birthday presents was a ream of paper and I was ... Oh, my god. That gift blew my mind, because it was blank paper with no lines! I couldn't stop drawing.
See the full studio tour in photos.
"On The Table: Drawings by Robert Jackson Harrington" will be held Saturday, Nov. 16, 10am-noon, at the Austin Public Library, Yarborough Branch, 2200 Hancock. To see more of Harrington's work, visit www.robertjacksonharrington.com.