10 Questions with Harry Rothel

Tell us about yourself? 

I’m 24 and from Melbourne. I’ve lived here most of my life except when I lived in the Middle East when I was younger for a few years. I love to paint. That’s the main thing I enjoy doing. 

When did you start painting? 

I fell into it. My mum always painted and made things, she’s quite a hands on person. It might have come from me watching her and thinking “That looks fun, I’ll give that a go”. 

Growing up in Australia, how has your surroundings influence your artwork?

I get a lot of inspiration from Australian artists and Australian iconography. I try to keep it so it relates to where I’m from. The latest things I’ve been doing like the Ned Kelly painting, there’s so much fascinating, dark history behind Australia and it’s interesting to touch into that. 

I’m also interested in weird faces, creatures, and clowns; and honestly I don’t know where that comes from. It’s just something I like to work with. I find it fun. I like creating an image where it can scare the viewer or wig them out. I like to get a response from people, whether it’s good, bad, horrible. It’s cool, I can create an image that evokes an emotion.

What can we expect from your upcoming exhibition, Toy Box Nightmare?

I had a set goal in mind of what I wanted in terms of a body of work. My previous shows have been single pieces just put all together. They looked cool individually but lacked cohesion when presented together. So, expect a body of work that relates more to each other. 

I also work at an auction house so there’s old toys and cool stuff that works well with the paintings. It’d be stupid to not take advantage of it. I’m lucky with this job  as its a never ending source of inspiration.

You’ve chosen to showcase your exhibition in your own studio rather than a gallery, what led you to that decision?

I’m in a warehouse space and there’s a big, open common area which I’m turning into a gallery as best as I can. It’s got great bones, I’ve just got to clean it out and then start hanging.

It’s the first time I’ve put a show on myself. I’ve always done it through a gallery or someone has put it on for me. It’s a lot more personal. It’s more stressful and hard but it’s fun doing it yourself. You’ve got control over it all. 

Do you think there will be a shift in the way artists showcase their work?

I hope so. People now with social media have the platform to promote. You can have an exhibition in Kensington and people will still come because people will know about it. Now it’s a lot more accessible. I’m keen to keep finding spaces and putting things on myself. I hope people start doing it themselves because it’s fun and a lot more personal. I think it’s important to do it once in your career. I was able to set when I wanted to do it, the hours, how long for, everything. I’m pretty excited for the next one. 

Especially for young people, if you don’t have connections to a gallery, there’s really no other way. Unless you’re a freak painter and everyone is chasing you. You go through this whole process of creating works, then you just hand them over and someone else does the rest for you. It’s kind of weird. Why not finish the process yourself?

What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I have no idea what I’m doing. Just working it out as I go along. I definitely make a lot of mistakes in the process. It’s a fun journey and I’m keen to see where it takes me and to keep learning new things. 

What has been one of your career highlights so far?

I had a group exhibition in London last year that was a highlight. Apart from my first solo show, the London one was hard to beat.

What are you working on next?

I already started working on a new body of work using thick watercolour paper. I’ve been steering towards portraiture, not so much classic portraiture. I’ve also been looking at doing some residencies. We’ll see what happens after this show. 

Any advice for aspiring artists?

I’m still an aspiring artists myself but I’ll just say do what you want, do it how you want and put time and effort into it. There’s so much potential with creating.

Words by Claire Le
Photos by Luke Van Aurich 
Framed by Heimur in Australian Messmate