Harrell Fletcher interviewed by Allan McCollum
WE GENERALLY EXPECT OUR ARTISTS TO BE MORE INTERESTING people than those from other walks of life, and we reward them for their special abilities to help the rest of us find complexity of meaning, beauty and even grandeur in the world around us. So when an artist attempts to sidestep that mythology and chooses a project that shifts the attention away from himself to the capabilities of other people, it’s not an easy task; such efforts can be hard to read without prejudice. Harrell Fletcher, an artist originally from California and now living in Portland, Oregon, has taken it upon himself to turn the spotlight onto others. With a dedicated, empathic intelligence, he treats us to the joy and poignancy of appreciating our fellow humans by walking a difficult line between artistic skill, organizational savvy and anonymity.
Interview took place on July 29, 2005 in New York City (images and captions are from the artist’s website)
Allan McCollum: One of the things I enjoy about your work is the way that the meaning of it doesn’t reside in any one piece. In fact, if you take a look at any one piece you might pass over it; they’re often so simple and easy to describe. But when you start looking at project after project after project, it seems to go into the hundreds, and then you get into your Learning to Love You More website and there’s a couple of thousand more projects to look at, then pretty soon you start realizing that your work is best understood when you take a look at everything, a lot of small projects, and at the way everything is balanced—and then a certain set of values comes through. You’re not trying to produce singular masterpieces, like what we generally expect from an artist. And this is one of the ways you turn things on their head all the time, and it constantly takes me by surprise. Like the way almost all your work is totally about people other than yourself. A lot of the things that we expect an artist to do, you do backwards.
Harrell Fletcher: That’s true. I saw the structure of how an artist is supposed to operate, but most of those structures didn’t feel comfortable to me. At a certain point, while I was still in graduate school, I just started realizing that I didn’t have to go the normal course. I could just do what seemed like the right thing for me to do.
AM: How did you perceive the ‘normal course’ while you were in school?
HF: Well, it’s so concentrated in graduate school. You see all of these people going into their studios. They’re all making objects, paintings, whatever, and they’re spending hours and hours doing that. It’s really supposed to be about isolating yourself from the world. Maybe there is a wall of inspirational pictures from magazines or something like that, but otherwise that’s the extent you’re supposed to be interacting with the world.
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