Saturday, March 10, 2012

Please, touch the art

Lindsey Treffry | blot

Jon Harty can’t keep his hands off art.

“Working with my hands was the main reason why I got into doing sculpture,” Harty said.

The 40-year-old University of Idaho graduate likes to play with clay, wood and metal.

Working with these materials has left Harty’s hands cracked and covered in calluses. Manual labor, splinters and sanding wood have reduced his fingernails to stubs.

“You want that dexterity and to be able to grab things and work with things,” Harty said. “My nails seem to be something I use a lot — scratching at things, pulling things, twisting a bolt or nut.”

Of his fingernails, his index and thumb are damaged the most. He said it is instinctual for him to use those fingers, which wears on the skin.

“My hands get tired and stiff,” he said. “The pain connects me to my work even more.”

The motion of turning a clay pot, Harty said, allows him to focus through discomfort.

“I get in there and do anything with it,” Harty said. “You can put your hands in it, squeeze it, hit it, throw it.”

As for sculpting with metal, Harty said there is still a connection between his hands and his work, despite the tool between them. He once produced a 5-foot-5-inch metal sculpture for people to walk through that ended in a 24-inch crawling hole. When he welds, he can see the form taking place — from the bead, to the color, to how it cools. 

But his most organic work grows from the relationship between art and people. 

“My interest is in the body,” Harty said. “How we interact within the environment — where we live, where we spend our work, our school or play or whatever — (and) how our bodies are connected to the environment.”

Harty’s installation, “Body Space,” stemmed from this idea. He said the sculptures focused on how personal space is not universally compatible.

Harty built three wooden boxes based on the physical dimensions of people he knew, including himself. The first box was based off a female friend with a small physical frame.

“I can’t fit in that box,” Harty said. “A lot (of people) can’t. Her space maybe isn’t always accessible to other people — and other people’s (spaces) are more accessible.”

The second box was inspired by a male friend with a larger frame, and the third was designed specifically for Harty, perfectly measured to accommodate only him in a sitting position.

Even though his sculptures are designed to portray personal space, Harty wants to ensure his art allows others to connect with it.

Harty showcased “Body Space” as part of the 2011 Moscow Artwalk.

“(Touch is) something that is taboo when you go into an art gallery,” Harty said. “‘Don’t touch the artwork.’”

But Harty said he wants to draw the viewer in more than a regular gallery does. He doesn’t want people to feel limited to looking, thinking and comprehending artwork.

“That’s more of a mental interaction,” he said. “I want something more physical.”

When he saw people touching his art and parents shutting kids’ fingers in the doors of his wooden work, Harty deemed his showcase a success. People were interacting.

“Open your mind a little bit and think about what you’re looking at a little bit more,” Harty said. “(Think) about what the artist is trying to get across to you.”

As seen in March issue of blot.

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