Artist Interview Harley Manifold

Harely is a Melbourne Based Artist you can find more details at his website


What are the main medium/s you work in?

Oil Painting, and more recently and excitingly plaster sculptures! I’ve never sculpted before and I have found working with plaster to be very difficult but fulfilling. Carving, smashing, sanding. Feels like building things on the farm as a kid.


What are your thoughts on artist statements?

For some it would be like trying to put an IKEA bench together… I like to leave the majority of the thinking up to my viewer, which is not to hard as my work gives over to this easily.

Study for The Tunnel 12.7 x 17.5 cm Oil on Board 2014

How do you describe your work?

Well in the words of one of my all time FAVOURITE lecturers… “Painting… has been done before… Figurative painting, well that has been done to death…Figure in the landscape painting, well it’s a little bit old hat”. My works are largely autobiographical, they sway away sometimes.


What are you currently working on?

The sculptures, making as many as I can. I’ve made over 50 now, and most of them have been placed around Melbourne and then people have taken them. Originally I hoped they would stay in place, but people are getting attached to them. Except for the feet, they were glued down – so there are a lot of shoeless little sculptures out there…


One word or statement to describe your current works?

A swipe at myself.


Why are you an artist?

I always loved making things, or tinkering things. But I really wanted to be an Air Force pilot, I got all the grades and did the right classes but my eyes weren’t perfect. So of course I choose to be a Visual Artist haha. I don’t know how I would have really been an Air Force pilot, much to sensitive.


How did you get into art?

How did I get into my current addiction…

Manifold_Harley_Suraci_130x162cm_oil_on_linen (2)

What did you do before becoming an artist?

Wedding Photography and Graphic Design, oh and farming, dish washing and pretending I can cook.

Manifold_Harley_Old_Myers_Building 25 x 35 cm_Oil_on_linen

What is your earliest memory of art?

Scratching crosses on all the walls at home, all the walls…

Manifold_Harley_NGV 10 x 15 cm _oil_on_linen

Did the place where you grew up have an influence?

Absolutely, the difference between home where the horizon is hours away and cuts like a razor across your vision to moving to the city where you are getting poked in the face by all sorts of strange geometrics and people.


What or who inspires your art?

Experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met. Places, always places. Music inspires more how I create my art – cinematic maybe?


How important is art for you?

I get a little restless, twitchy and bitey when I don’t create something for a week…

What caused you to choose the medium you currently work in?

…Good question… The difficulty of presenting an idea figuratively in paint was a challenge I took on because I had no idea what to do with my life at uni. Post Air Force ‘careerlessness’,

I got cornered by two lecturers at the end of 1st semester, if I didn’t pull my finger out and start trying harder they would fail me, they said talent is one thing. Hard work is another. I had shown some promise and hadn’t really thought it was a pathway to take in life… Then I got addicted to the challenge. I had always marvelled at paintings though so I guess that’s why. Sculpture until now had not held a place in my heart.

Do you have a personal description of “Art”?

I don’t think it’s a super important question anymore, do your thing and if you don’t hurt anyone well…

How important do you think craftsmanship is to artistic creation?

Highly. Both my parents are perfectionists, many times learning how to fence (not the sword type) on the farm, dad would berate me for not making the ties neat. That said in paint, I leave a lot of the ‘mistakes’ and marks in because I think they have an innate beauty, and it’s to easy to get the finest brushes out and just make something like a photo… That however, is just my experience. I like the idea that over time my painting may dissolve into itself…

Does the sale of your work support you?

Yes, I am very lucky, I do work a lot longer and harder than some of my close friends who make a living and work in offices though… I’ve always wondered what it must be like in an office! Haha.

Some say the lifespan of an “artist” post educationally is about five years, any thoughts on that?

LOL, who said that? I mean who says that, really? Lifespan – do they think an artist makes for a market or themselves? I’d love to meet someone who thinks that…

Tell us about your connection to your subject matter, way of working, concepts etc?

My work is deeply self-absorbed and self-reflective. It’s a personal exploration of, um, my world… (Cringes)… Yeah that’s ‘Harleywood’… (Cringes some more).

If you could have any piece of artwork in your personal collection, what would it be and why?

There are so many, it would be something I could learn from, maybe one of William Bougerau’s large works ‘Nypmhs and Satyr’. Mind blowing tonal rendering. Makes me realise I have a lot to learn.

Have you had any “big breaks” in your career?

My first exhibition, I think we sold 27k of work and I was 21. I couldn’t believe it, I really had no idea it was possible – it opened the door to jam my foot in.

All artists seem to have struggles, tell us about any you have had.

Anxiety and depression played a huge part in my growing up and at school, and that really affected the way I started to paint. Dark places where I could go play in my head, go hide, go and rest. It used to be crippling, but these days I am doing great – I don’t know how it changed, just time. Of course there are always swings, or tectonic shifts haha. I still, despite what most people think on meeting me, get very shy and introverted sometimes. Growing up in the country there were a lot of backward ideas of how a male should be, it wasn’t all accepting, and I’ve never really hung around other artists either…

Do you keep an Art Journal or Visual Diary of some kind?

Always, and I write in it a lot – though in the last few years they are to do lists (ewwww) I also use Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and a Blog to throw things (not always good) out into the world.

How important is it to you that your work communicates something to the viewer?

It’s not. I do it for myself, I do love it when someone makes up a little story though to what they think is going on! Even if it’s nothing like what I was thinking and feeling at the time.

What can you say about your work that might not be evident to the viewer?

It’s the way I want it to be, otherwise you probably wouldn’t see it – there are exceptions, like when I learn something new.

What can you tell us about your creative development process?

Sometimes it is a very long process, sometimes 6 months of thought goes into a painting before I even start sketching it up. Sometimes it just happens overnight, it’s never the same for two paintings.

Has being involved in the arts proven to be a millstone or a point of elation?

All of the above, I don’t think it seperates to much from life in general. Well I don’t tend to separate it, it is my life now.

Art is about entertainment, experiment, inventiveness or shock for you?

What Hazel Dooney said on this matter, it’s much bigger than just a single thing.

If you stopped doing art right now would you miss it?

I would probably pick up a really bad habit if I stopped it, or maybe get a family or something haha. The thought doesn’t register at all.

What discourages you from doing art?

My own ineptitude at handling a piece of wood and hair haha. Sometimes.

Is motivation to work an issue for you and how do you overcome it?

You just gotta’ treat it like a job, people don’t get to go into offices and sit down at their desks working for a big company and go man I don’t feel like doing anything today. That said, somedays I will do something else and come paint all night. But it’s five days a week the last two months it has been seven days a week plus nights (getting ready for a show).

Do you have a challenge knowing when a work is finished?

I work on a lot of paintings at once, so sometimes you will get better by working on another and come back and go… oh s#!t that needs fixing!

The value of Visual Arts is…


Your first “decent” gallery representation, how did it come about?

I’ve never had ‘decent’ gallery representation, ever, I’ve had people show my work and some who have taken things from me and not returned them… Yes that’s you Adelaide gallery who shall not be named…

Your first show at a “gallery” you thought was of value, how was the whole thing for you?

Mind blowing, I was very lucky, low commission (they raised it the next year) and 27k of sales…

The business or marketing side of Art can be a challenge to some, what are your thoughts?

You work at you artworks, why not work at your marketing? It shouldn’t be a dirty word, you are creative get creative with your marketing…?

What is the most unexpected response you’ve received from a viewer of your work?

An old lady once looked at a work, she was short, and she grabbed my arm and pulled me down to her height – she said I love the painting but why is this young girl suiciding!? (she wasn’t she was doing a back flip)… Happiness from owning it, or seeing it – that has been truly moving to see.

Tell us about getting caught in a creative “slump” and how you got out of it?

I just put a song I can get into on repeat, something that just has a beat or electronic – and just start doing something, even if it’s wrong it’s better to be doing something…

Is your art, “art for art sake…” or a matter of “art for commercial viability?”

I make it for my own sanity, the rest is out of my hands.

Name a book or books, which may have inspired your work as an artist?

Hyperion Cantos… Hell of a tale.

Tell us about your studio environment?

Cramped, an explosion of creative refuse.

Is your work process fast or slow?

Depends on my mind…

Otto Dix the German artist said (in part)… “All art is exorcism…” Is that the case for you? If so how…

Oh yeah, you could say that I am trying to work out somethings, I mean it is Harleywood…

People around you (family friends etc.) what would they say about the way you work, the moods you have, your life as an artist etc? Persevering. Focused and most of them say they just couldn’t do it. The hours, the costs…

Do you have a connectedness to other art forms?

Love music, absolutely one of the most important things on this earth to me, wouldn’t most artists feel the same?

Some artists are more “at home” isolated in their creative process, while others revel in being part of a group to bounce “ideas off” how about you?

Both, I am terribly dichotic. I am happy sitting in a small dark spot reading a book and jumping off a cliff to go surfing miles away from any beach…

What is one thing you need to have in your studio before you work?


What moves you most in life, either to inspire or upset you?


Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it’s executed?

I remember one of the only lessons I got at Uni. The teacher sat me down and said, there are two ends to a wheel that if you become an artist you must acknowledge. And you will forever rotate around this wheel. One is Technique, the other is emotion. You must always keep these in mind, because it will rotate constantly.

Are there times of the day when you prefer to do your work?

When everyone else isn’t working… I don’t know why exactly…

From your early beginnings at art school to now, how have things altered for you?

I am more comfortable with what I am painting, I don’t feel like I have to do things for other people to work it out as much anymore.

Is the making of art all it was “cracked up to be”?

It’s better and worse probably, and longer and more tiring, funnier and sadder.

Do you go into any contemporary art prizes, if so why?

Yes, I think it’s a good way to get people seeing your works, I have gained some great collectors from being seen in major prizes like the Metro Art Prize.

Are you the sort of artist that seeks out promotional opportunities or one that shuns the limelight?

I don’t seek them out, but I certainly don’t hide from them. It’s always good to keep your ear to the ground.

When you create your work is it somehow an emotional relief as you do it or at the end?

Hahaaaaaa. Sometimes I’ll leave the studio at night elated with what I have done – then I will come back the next day and go what the f&ck was I thinking!?

Do you aim to make “masterpieces” with the aim of being seen in the future as an artist who really made their mark in art history?

I aim to make things that I am not embarrassed to look at in a few years time. Some of the first things I did were terrible, though I only started painting halfway through Uni. I’ve only been at this about 12 years, and there was a big break in the middle.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

F*ck Nike, just do it.


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