Wednesday 21 March 2018

Harry's natural path with painting

As an artist, Harry Durdin Robertson, 26, is following in his parents' footsteps, finds Andrea Byrne

Andrea Byrne

'I never call myself an artist to people; I would say I am a painter," announces Harry Durdin Robertson. "I don't think everything I paint is necessarily art. But if I do a nice painting -- not nice because it is pretty, but it has conveyed what I want to convey -- well, that's art because I got what I wanted out of it. I leave it up to people to judge whether I am an artist or not."

Unlike other artists, it immediately becomes clear that Harry finds it hard to sell himself. He's remarkably modest. Laughing, he agrees: "I missed out on an opportunity by not being pushy enough. It is a delicate line to get right, but I think I am getting a little better at it."

However, Harry's modesty hasn't hindered his progression in the art world. Aged only 26, his work is included in several private collections worldwide, and he is represented by the Oriel Gallery in Dublin. Art is in his genes. With his mother a painter and his father a well-known sculptor, Harry's upbringing was strongly steeped in the arts.

Furthermore, growing up in Huntington Castle in Clonegal, Co Carlow, which had been in the family since it was built in 1625, has greatly shaped his aesthetic. "I always push for the dark tones," he explains.

Harry received his training in Florence at Atelier Harp, which is run by American artist Rebecca Harp, who used to teach at the famous Charles Cecil studio in the same city, before setting up her own school. "It was really nice; there was a great mixture of people. You had a little bit more creative freedom. It was still quite disciplined, and also encouraged me to be very self-motivating, because I can be a little lazy at times," chuckles the painter who divides his time between his Wicklow home and his shared studio in Piazzale Donatello, Florence.

He admits that starting out after his training, without the safety net of his mentor, was difficult. "There was no one to run to when you encountered a problem. For the first nine months, I'd say my work suffered quite a bit, then after that, I learned how to problem-solve. I'm quite comfortable now although I still have a lot to learn."

Inspired by cinema, and the film-like qualities of many Edward Hopper paintings, Harry's style is deeply rooted in the realist tradition -- natural realism to be exact -- working mainly with oils, which, he tells me, are very forgiving. "The light is controlled in a studio environment, so you have light coming in from a north window. A lot of people use these big bright rooms and think it would be perfect for a painter -- it's not at all, because we actually blacken the room. You're creating an illusion when you paint."

Sadly, one of Harry's other great creative influences -- his father David -- died suddenly two years ago, aged only 57. "He suffered an aneurism. He was only in hospital for 10 days. He had been very fit. I was in Italy at the time actually; luckily he was able to communicate a little, which was nice because I hadn't seen him since Christmas."

Harry's mother, Moira McCaffery, still paints and he has collaborated with her on occasion. "We would have a similar enough style. She is a little more impressionistic, she would do more landscapes than I would do. But she still would be a realist. We find taking critiques from each other very hard," he says with a smile, "but my mum is generally always right, which is very irritating."

Harry's brother Alexander and his wife run the family castle in Carlow, which is open to the public. His other brother works as an anthropologist in the Congo, while his sister Sarah is a TV producer.

In a bid to maintain a good work/life balance, Harry resists temptation and tries to work normal office hours. "I know people, back in Florence, who paint incessantly -- and while some of their work is brilliant, a lot of it suffers for that fact that they don't get any perspective or distance from it."

Currently unattached, Harry, who speaks fluent Italian, admits that living in two countries hinders his ability to sustain a relationship, and he can't foresee maintaining dual residency forever. "It's transitory. You get used to living one place. When I am in Florence coming back to Ireland, I sort of don't want to leave the place. Then when I am in Ireland, I don't want to go back to Florence. The thing about Florence is that it is a bit of a dead town. There is big tourism, but there isn't a whole lot going on. You feel a little out of the loop in terms of current affairs. The Florentines are very provincial. I wouldn't want to live there forever."

Harry, who makes his own canvasses and has recently started making his own frames, will be having an exhibition in the Oriel Gallery next year and hopes to soon exhibit in Melbourne.

The cost one would incur for one of Harry's beautiful paintings? "A 40x50 portrait at the moment would be around €1,800", he says. "I'd much rather sell and get my name out there rather than being stagnant."

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