Neal Harrington was born in Rapid City, South Dakota in 1973. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in painting from the University of South Dakota, and his Master of Fine Arts with an emphasis in printmaking from Wichita State University, the artist has gone on to produce a fantastic career so far, including being awarded the Juror Award in the Irene Rosenzweig Biannual Exhibition at the Arts & Science Center in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and recieving the Delta Award in the 55th Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. Neal currently resides in Russellville, Arkansas with his wife Tammy (also an artist) and their two children, Jake and Olive. He is an Associate Professor of Art and Gallery Director at Arkansas Tech University.
A Little Light... Reading, Mixed Media, 48" x 36"
Why art? There are lots of things you can do in life, why did making art grab you and not let go?
Art is a sickness! I feel like I am failing if I do not create something. It’s like I’m treading water and doing nothing. I believe that creativity comes from action so I work and work. I do not wait to be inspired. It is satisfying when my artwork moves on to the next phase like when it is in an exhibition or is sold, this is what I enjoy.
Yeah, it’s a question that gets asked a lot, but I’m going to ask it again: What inspires you?
Chasing that next print over the hill! My next image is right there waiting for me.
What do you find to be the hardest aspect to being
It is hard to deal with my drive to achieve which is fueled by my fear of failure. I hope to never feel like I want to give up making art. When I am idle and not making art when life is so busy, it is hard on me to feel this way.
Most artists have some idea of where they are going with their work while they are creating it. However, there is always the aspect that the viewer will project their own ideas and experiences onto the work when they see it. Do you feel that you, in a sense, lose some control of the work once it is released into the wild? Is this bothersome to you?
My work has had plenty of positive and negative responses. I feel that the worst response is no response. In graduate school, the very famous artist William Bailey was offended by my work and spoke negatively about it during a Graduate Student critique. That was not fun but on the plus side, the whole group of graduate students, faculty, and visitors discussed my works for about a half an hour. He gave the other students a few minutes of his time, so I guess at least my work elicited some response other than yes this is great or you could work on that. He was genuinely upset! It was hard to see that as a positive at the time!
Any ambitious or exciting projects on the horizon for you? What's new in your career that you're excited about and looking forward to?
I created the storyboards for the Miller Brothers' movie starring Joey Lauren Adams called, All the Birds Have Flown South. I am anxious and curious to see the finished product since I drew out the entire movie in storyboard format. I only had a month to work on this project and it was very overwhelming! I had to get a week extension and Josh Miller was kind enough to grant it. The storyboards consist of 95 pages with 3 scenes on each page. Some of the scenes are quite elaborate.
I also have a solo exhibition of my works at the Historic Arkansas Museum scheduled for November 2015.
Did you ever have that "aha!" life-changing moment with a piece of art in your formative years? What was it and how did it affect you?
When I was 19 or so, my 2-D design professor returned sketchbooks to the class and my sketchbook was not on the table. I panicked and thought that I didn't turn it in. The professor announced that he held out some of the sketchbooks so he could talk about them and show them to the class. He produced mine and showed each page declaring that this student can really draw. That was a validation that I had never experienced before. I wanted more of that!
Sometimes artists feel that their studio is something of a sacred place to them. It can be very personal for them, and allowing others in can make them uncomfortable. Is your studio like this? How do you see your studio or workspace?
I was very lonely as a painter shut off in the studio. Painting spaces are divided into individual work areas. I would visit my wife in the printshop and see the print students working, talking, eating together, and pulling pranks on each other. I have no problem with making artwork and talking in a shared space. Some people really cannot function this way. Now as the professor, I work in class all the time. The students tease me in Figure Drawing because if I'm really feeling it, I will be rocking out and drawing. It's fun.
Who do you consider to be big influences on you and your work? It doesn't have to be another visual artist. I know for myself several of my influences come from practicioners of different art forms.
My influences are R. Crumb, Luis Jimenez, Lynd Ward, early Blues and Jazz, Folk, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, movies, comics, and pop culture.
How big of an impact is music on your creative process? Many of the artists I know have to listen to music when they create. If it's a big part of your process, what do you listen to?
Music is big for me. Really big. I play music, listen to others play music, and consider my works visual compositions. Most of the terms associated with music apply to my works as well. Texture, composition, rhythm, etc. all relate to good music and good visual art. I listen to Dylan, Waits, the Boss, Steve Earle, and one of my former students and local legend Adam Faucett.
What is the greatest accomplishment you want to achieve in your career as an artist?
I've achieved it. I set out to be a college art professor and I did it. I really, really wanted that for my wife AND myself. Everything else is a bonus.
Thank you Neal for taking the time to give us a little insight into yourself as an artist!