An Interview with Harriet Myfanwy Nia Tahany
Hello Loki and Splink here, we had the honour of being invited to take part making art at the Species Gothic festival! Since the event we along with the other artists and performers have also conducted an interview with event organiser Harriet about our experience at the event! We thought it would only be fair if the artistic director Harriet MyfanwyNia was interviewed too (by us two ragamuffins as it would be a bit weird if she had to interview herself!) Warning… Our interview style and questions may not be as eloquent as the fine lady herself posed to us! So apologies in advance! Loki & Splink xxx
- Hell-o Harriet! Thanks a million for including us in the line up at this year’s Species festival, we had a lovely time! First up, now be totally honest with us… You were so welcoming and lovely, are you some kind of magical faerie sent from another world to make this one better?
Aw *blushes* I’d love to answer this question “yes I have been exposed”, but alas no, I am but merely mortal, however I do believe in magic, the power of positivity, the alchemy of thought and harnessing of emotions for creativity and personal growth. I believe when we have the best intentions for ourselves we can inspire others around us and through collaboration we can most defiantly make the world better, be it in our own simple and sometimes strange ways.
- You and your partner Iliocht were the main instigators and driving force behind the Species festival, why did you want put on this event?
The idea of a Goth fest is credited to my husband Iliocht, we have hosted many different groups here on our site, groups of many different genres and visions. Species is our first attempt at the event management side of a festival. Iliocht is an old school Goth coming of age in the eighties in New York, he wanted to create something collaborative and experimental in the spirit of the scene that helped him discover himself.
We hope Species to be a catalyst of creativity as a platform for Gothic and Industrial arts, bringing music and art lovers together with musicians and artists, fostering collaborations, sharing their craft with a targeted audience and introducing the genre to others.
- The location of species is pretty spectacular and very much steeped in Irish mythology and folklore, what is it like to live in such a magical environment?
It is indeed a magical place to be, the wind up there on the mountain at times can be fierce, I believe it blows away all my mental cobwebs and helps me hold on to the more important things. I feel blessed everyday to live here there is truly something therapeutic about living out in the Irish wilderness, I am happy that others can share it, when there is an event happening.
- We know you best for your artwork of delightful little ladies, from your charcoal drawings to elaborate paintings and jewellery pieces. Tell us a little about you and your art practices!
My artwork is mainly narrative based featuring distinctive wide eyed feminine characters. I think of myself as a multi-disciplinary artist, my approaches are often diverse, the works like myself are ever changing and developing, I am yet to have found a definitive style. There is however an evident evolution in my work and at times a deconstruction, the work is personal underneath the formal explored themes, ideas and inspirations they contain. The artwork becomes an energy container that acts as a personal archive of memory, a recording of some emotive expression of myself at an early time when the work was new. Looking at older work is a way to reflect on myself. Making art for me is fun and sometimes challenging, a centering meditation and adventure into my imagination, reuniting fragments of thought, de-cluttering my mind and heart by releasing those things I struggle to express in any other way.
My favorite medium is charcoal and feel my most accomplished works are in charcoal, I enjoy the forgivable nature of the medium. You can keep manipulating the marks, and polishing the surface until you decide to fix the work. I have heartfelt aspirations in oil painting, but have a love hate relationship with it because of how long it takes. I enjoy watercolors for their precision and speed and acrylics for larger mural type work. It’s all good to me.
I have been making the jewellery as a way of merchandising my art and reaching a larger audience, where many people don’t have money to invest in an original artwork, they get to buy a little piece of handmade jewellery featuring a print of the piece instead. I enjoy this craft work very much, it is a nice space for me between paintings and drawings. Often when I am painting my mind wonders and I think about how the painting would translate onto a piece of jewellery, to me it’s all part of my process. I think in the past there has been some snobbery in the art world about this kind of practice, that a piece of work becomes less exclusive, or it’s going into the realm of design and not fine art. Artist Takashi Murakami in the tradition of Andy Warhol’s Factory inspired me to lose these preconceptions. He mass produces his work onto all manner of merchandise, from mobile phone covers, key chains and vinyl toys. He has pulled down the boundaries between commerce and fine art with this practice, and is one of the foremost contemporary artists living today. In comparison with my practice; my merchandising is more like a cottage industry rather than a factory, which I think is quite fitting to my cultural context as an artist living in rural Ireland.
- You have a unique style of creating worlds in which the characters you draw and paint live, does this world have a name and can you tell us a little something about it?
The characters exist in what I like to describe as dreamscapes or mindscapes a depiction exploring the realms of the unconscious mind and reflections of the human condition. This universe of worlds exists metaphysically, containing magical portals between multi-dimensional spaces, the non-linear narrative of the psyche.
- How long have you been making art, and what drives you to do it?
Over two decades at this point, I have been creative since I was very small. I was 13 when I started to get seriously into it and knew art was my calling. I have put work into open group exhibitions since my early years of college and had my first gallery solo exhibition in 2008 in Co. Sligo, in ‘Teach ban nua’ gallery. I finished college in 2009 with a MFA and have shown 8 solo exhibitions of my work in Dublin, Belfast and Sligo.
Making art, I have learned is fundamental to my wellbeing, it’s therapeutic to me in so many ways.
- Which artists have been influential to the development of your style and what aspects of these inspire you most?
I admire Frida Kahlo. I like her surreal compositions, paintings like ‘My Dress Hangs There’ and ‘What The Water Gave Me’, I see these paintings as mindscapes, juxtaposing things and people in her life, expressing her psyche. They are like alternative self portraits of an unconscious inner world. I also like her masquerade the way she always dressed up, often flamboyantly, in her native traditional Mexican costume, like her life was a performance. Fashion as self-expression is all part of her theme of self portraiture. It’s a bit of a romantic notion of ‘the artist’ whose life and works are deeply intertwined. Contemporary artists that have inspired me include Camille Rose Garcia for her post-apocalyptic narratives that seem so contemporary and relevant, and Paula Rego for her creative approach to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Studying these artists at college gave me inspiration to develop my own approach to Surreal and narrative-based work with the confidence to view it as a fine art.
I adore and closely relate my work within the realms of Pop Surrealism, so many artists impossible to list them all here but Scott Musgrove, Brandi Mine, Todd Schorr and of course Mark Ryden who is conceded the godfather of the movement, are all outstanding example of this type of work.
Pop Surrealism as a contemporary revival of Surrealism, seeks in the Surrealist tradition to liberate the imagination but focuses on the contemporary visual landscape of Pop culture.
- you had a number of artworks on display at Species, which took on another life at night under the UV lighting; tell us a little about these works of art!
The main piece of UV artwork was a collaborative mural with one of my closest friends, Leitrim based artist Brigit Smith, Although in the past we have spent lots of creative time together this was our first collaborative painting. It was a fun and inspiring experience, the challenge of creating a harmonious balance with each other’s styles became effortless through a mutual respect for each other’s craft. I enjoy this collaborative work very much and look forward to a new painting project we have planned to work on together this winter, A huge UV enchanted forest mural.
I got into UV painting back in the early 2000’s creating backdrops and hangings for small local festivals and events on large pieces of canvas. I was enthralled by the way the artwork came to life under the UV. In 2007 decided to bring it into my studio practice with the outlook to explore the medium and the different applications of UV, I discovered glow in the dark powdered pigment which I often use as a base for charcoal drawings the pigment illuminated the artwork from behind the drawing. One of these examples was on the wall at Species, a drawing titled ‘The Gingerbread Man’ based on the classic children’s story.
I have also experimented with mixing the dry UV pigment with oils and wax and found that the medium could take on a range of softer tones that were less vivid and created depth and atmosphere to the works. I always seem to return to UV and have fitted a main UV light in my studio so I can switch between this and the white light easily, I think that is the challenge of UV painting – getting the finish to look good in both daytime and UV night time.
- Obviously you were very busy in the run up to the event with the arrival of a new tiny person into your life! (Kudos on being able to organize a festival with a new born) you still managed to create amazing horror props, in particular the potion bottles and art for the festival, tell us about these pieces!
It was a random set of LED lights I acquired that gave me the idea, they were tiny enough to put in the bottles and jars, I painted the inside of the glass with spray-paint that created the colored light. I imagined them to glow like magical witches potions. I started to make labels on Photoshop then discovered there was a vast array of examples of vintage potion labels on sites like Pinterest, so when mass producing labels this sped things up immensely. It was a 3 step process paint the jars, stick a label on and then add the lights, I was lucky to have a few friends call up on the run up to the festival and had them help me, we had a little factory line going ending up with over 70 spooky glowing bottles and jars. They were very effective and made great little art installation clusters around the site.
- It takes an insane amount of work to put on a festival, and yourself and Iliocht had a great team of people in the species crew working behind the scenes with you, what preparations had to be made to Goth proof the site, and what roles did the various team members take on to make Species happen?
We are lucky to have friends and team members who often get involved with events up here, so over time we have learned who is the most reliable. We also have small arts collective The Twisted Oak; its members are made up of artists as well as musicians who were on call on the run up to the event. We meet once a month and take it in turns to host the meetings at each others houses, everyone in the collective was excited about the opportunity to get creatively involved in an event like Species as we all have an appreciation of the genre.
Many practical jobs include cutting the grass and on a five hector site this is no small task, stoning up paths and the car park to battle the weeds that are always trying to reclaim it, general tidying up and making sure everything is safe, fencing ditches and gathering firewood. Then of course all of the décor and art installations that were being built on the run up to the event, this for me was a lot of visiting artists and making sure they had the materials they needed to finish in time. At the event we also have security and first aid workers who have to be hired in, people to oversee the car park and make sure everyone parks safely.
The part took up most of the time was the planning and organizing the artist’s months of planning and messages. I don’t think I have ever been on facebook so much in my life; I definitely have a new appreciation for event managers and the time and effort it takes to pull it all together.
- What are your views on Gothic culture in Ireland today?
There’s a little bit of Goth in everybody whether they realize it or not, being Goth/Gothic does not mean you’re obsessed with death, it means you can find beauty in even the most dark and unusual of things.
The genre encompasses many alternative forms, embracing the creative imagination and theatricality of the unconscious mind.
In Ireland the scene seems to be mainly focused around Dublin and Belfast, with wonderful monthly club nights and new events emerging all the time. There is a lot of talented Goths all over in Ireland just waiting to be discovered.
- What parts of Species did you enjoy most?
Making new friends, seeing all of the performances, the Gothic market it was really nice to see all the crafts and the live art happening all around. I was pleased to see how much fun everyone was having, I was left with a real sense of satisfaction after witnessing all the hard work and collaborative efforts. We created something really special.
- would you like to organise and take part artistically at next year’s Species festival? Yes. Ok. Awesome. Thanks Harriet.