David Greg Harth or “Harth” as he likes to be called, is a prolific artist who lives in New York City. I actually saw his work www.davidgregharth.com on social media and knew I had to chat with him. He’s a very bright and inspired guy. Read on and find out what I mean …
MICHAEL: Hey Harth, Judging only by your online activity, every part of you seems to be an artist ... perhaps blissfully so. Does art consume you or do you consume art?
HARTH: Hi Michael. Interesting question, but I knew my answer to your question immediately. Art consumes me. I often think about how my life would be different if I weren’t so dedicated to it. I think how perhaps I would be in a relationship or have children by now. But the choice I've made over the past many years was always put art first. That's good and that's bad. I suppose years from now, we'll all know if this consumption was the right move for my heart to follow. Of course, I do consume art too; the observing, viewing, experiencing, etc of it all especially in New York City. But that consumption is incomparable to how art making consumes me. I thought by now I would have cloned myself, but, that's on my “to do” list as well. My dedication to my art, however, does not get in the way when someone needs me. I would die for anyone. My heart and brain (the creative part) often, constantly dual with each other. What do I want more? Art or Love? When in reality, a lot of my work is about love although viewers might not see that right away. I haven't figured out the balance yet. That bothers me, that troubles me, that makes me uneasy. But that disturbance just fuels my creativity more. I'm so consumed I could go on and on with this answer.
MICHAEL: How did this happen? What's your earliest memory of art and when did this become a life path for you?
HARTH: How did the consumption begin? Right when I came out of the womb. I started art lessons as a kid. I've always been doing art since my earliest memories. I don't think there was a choice in choosing this life path. It's something I have to do. I have to do the things that I do so they exist. I have to do these things because I like to engage with people. I like to make people think. About social issues, politics, sex, culture, religion, etc. I love conversations with people. Oddly, I'm quite shy. But if I have a project that is art - then the shyness goes away. I can't comprehend my life without making art. I think one significant turning point in my life was when I was a teenager and was in a coma. Twice. After that, I looked at life differently. I became atheist and realized a life without art making was not a life at all. I was determined to continue doing it, forever, no matter the sacrifices I make. But as I get older, I do think about those sacrifices, but then I think about the work I've made thus far and I feel quite accomplished.
MICHAEL: I'm stunned that you call yourself an atheist because I'm a Christian and it's crystal clear to me that you have a God-given gift and on top of that, it manifested after a coma? Twice? Dude! Anyway, we're not here to debate. Where do you get your inspiration? What inspires you to create from day to day?
HARTH: Is my God-given gift my art? My art making? That I am an artist? Or do you mean that my God-given gift is that I have survived two comas? A question like "Where do you get your inspiration?" can yield a tremendous answer. But I'll attempt to shorten it, only because I'm forced to. Otherwise, this chat we are having I would continue for years. I'm inspired by everything: love, music, sex, religion, films, politics, society (and its numerous problems), women, art, New York City, people, languages, cultures, poetry, etc. I hate to shorten that list. As for what inspires me to create - I think it’s a similar question to the previous one. But if you are asking more about a drive, a drive to keep going, to battle the upward battle (the artist struggle). It's because I'm fully confident that I'll achieve something that I have not yet. I'm not sure exactly what that is, because I'm not there yet. It's because I'm determined to prove to people that I can, when they say I can't. I don't speak of anyone particular. It's because I'd like to (I need too?) make a difference. It's because when someone says to me that I've inspired them, then I know I'm doing something right. It's because when at one moment in time years ago, when I was jobless, heartless, moneyless, standing outside of 10 Downing Street and you speak to Tony Blair on the mobile phone, you realize everything that you've been doing and are doing to further my art, are for the right reasons. Because I've chosen to follow my heart in every action I've ever made. There are no wrong decisions. There are only right decisions. With great outcomes or not so great outcomes. Alas, I probably went off on a tangent. But I'm allowed too, after all, I'm an artist.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world and art market and how they function today?
HARTH: Well, let me attack the art market first. I am not currently severely immersed in it. Meaning, I currently don't have representation by a gallery. I've had an interesting journey though. Many years ago I got involved with a "gallery" and after about a 10-year relationship with them, I left. I learned some good things and some bad things from that gallery experience and from a mentor - who was basically the person who ran that gallery. For one, don't trust anyone. And there are tons of back-ended deals. Supposedly. And everyone gets a cut. Supposedly. And everyone supports everyone. Supposedly. In fact, I really got fucked over. I had to go through Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts to attempt to get hundreds of my artworks back from my former mentor and former "gallery." Not to mention, I owed (and paid) the IRS $22,000 because of wacky numbers the gallery's (mentor's) tax person did on my taxes. It reminds me that Larry Gagosian has been in the news regarding taxes too. They say (who are they?) that galleries and artists cannot survive without each other. And of course critics, curators, collectors are also dependent upon that relationship too. At the end of the day, nothing in the art world can exist without the artist. The art market is difficult. I want to be in it. I feel I need to be in it to achieve that status I have yet to achieve. The way the art market functions probably needs a refreshing jolt. Why are some artists’ work selling for millions at auction when millions of artists are contemplating what they can afford to eat that night? In general, the art world is filled with a lot of crap. Of course people may think my work is crap. After all, taste is the enemy of art. However, I don't think my work is crap. What I think is more important than being in the art market is just being able to create work. I'll be making art with or without the market. And what I really like is engaging with people. Conversation, participation, interaction. Sometimes, the more you get into the market, the less of a relationship you have with your viewers. Since I left the gallery, the choices I have made have been more true to who I am and have yielded more enriching life experiences. Yet I still seek representation. Or wait for it at least. I could write an answer about what I think about the art world, which I think is more than the answer above in regards to the art market. After all, the art world is also about art fairs, social scenes, fashion, fucking, who knows who, hybrid crossovers of actors making art and of artists doing commercial photography, etc. Shall I continue?
MICHAEL: Absolutely. Continue. I'm listening.
HARTH: I've been thinking about how to continue. I have too many thoughts that cannot be compressed into a mere chat. But I often think of these people, to name a few: Diane Arbus, Jeremy Blake, Vincent van Gogh, Ray Johnson, Mark Lombardi, Mike Kelley, Mark Rothko, etc. They were all artists. They all committed suicide. I think that says something about the art world, don't you?
MICHAEL: Tell me about your work. I see different genres, but most of it seems conceptually driven. The work seems to fit together as a whole, thus creating a world within itself. Thoughts?
HARTH: Long response ahead. I certainly do work across various genres. And you are right, they are mostly conceptually driven. In a work, I am more concerned with the concept and I will execute the work in whatever medium is necessary to get that concept across. Whether it be performance, video, photography, drawing, installation, etc. And in those mediums, I explore everything from politics, religion and celebrities to culture, sexuality and love. Much of my work is time-based and participatory-based. Many of my projects are ongoing or have set long term time limits. The Holy Bible Project started in 1997 and will be completed in 2017. In that project, I ask people, mainly famous people, to participate in the work by signing my bible. (Note: I grew up Jewish, I am atheist, I am ordained). The photo booth project that I started just about a year ago, "Every Person I Know and Every Person I Don't Know" will continue for the rest of my life. I take photo booth portraits with people I know and people I don't know. With strangers and friends. For years, when something political inspires me, I stamp messages on currency and put those back into circulation. Most recently was "I AM WALL STREET" during Occupy Wall Street and the most widely circulated and recognized was "I AM NOT TERRORIZED" in the fall of 2001 right after the Twin Towers were attacked. The exchange of stamped money is participatory and engages people in conversation. In 2010, I built a newsstand with horrible and bad news on it. I saved newspapers and magazines for 15 years prior covering horrid media-obsessed stories, like the Pope dying, Princess Diana being killed, the D.C. sniper, school shootings, plane crashes, terrorist attacks, etc. I collected these for the sole purpose of building the newsstand years later.
In the performance, "Tumbling Thimbles on Trimble," I put my body in challenging motion. So much of a challenge that I shattered my clavicle, had two surgeries and six months of physical therapy to recover. During my residency in Palestine I did the performance "Dependent Independent," where I put myself in a situation where my life was dependent upon the trust of strangers. I would not want to create a work where your heart isn't completely in it. An artist has to be dedicated and fully committed.
Over the past few years, I have done art work which rooted from social networks. For example, in 2011 I asked my network peers "Who wants to have a threesome?" I won't explain the specifics here, but, what followed were cautious questions. And the first dozen people who responded got a free limited edition signed & dated silkscreen print in the mail which was the equation "1 + 2 = 3" titled, "Threesome." I revealed the image after it was announced what my question was actually about, and the two dozen people after that could purchase one. The first dozen were rewarded for their courage. Recently, because of Facebook, I started the project "I ate a burger with Harth." If anyone has a burger with me, and buys me mine, they get a card with a photo of a burger and it is signed & dated indicating the shared experience.
Speaking of hamburgers, I was in a group exhibition about philanthropy which was at Apex Art a few years ago. Each artist got $600 to make the art work. I chose to stand outside of a McDonald's and offer to pay for people's meals as they entered. It resulted in quite an interesting performance and documentation video. Some people said yes, some said no, and eventually McDonald's called the police on me.
One year, during Open Studios at The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, where I have a studio, I gave away free hearts to anyone who wanted one. Free actual sheep hearts injected with formaldehyde in a Ziploc bag. I was fascinated that I was in a position where I could do this.
I called myself shy. But when it comes to my art, the shyness goes away. I like to interact with people. I like conversations. With people I know and people I don't know. I like to make people think. For the past two years at the Visual AIDS Postcards from the Edge benefit, I’ve created a postcard which is actually a dinner invitation. With it, I take the collector/purchaser to dinner (courtesy of my wallet). So they would get a conversation with the artist and not just the postcard.
When it comes to more tangible works, my photographs often explore sexuality and consumerism. My video work is like my photographs, but also at times inject humor or are quite durational. And of course, all along, I continue drawing my drawings, which I call, “Thinkways.” These drawings are on paper or walls; ink, pencil, etchings too. These drawings look like roads and maps or circulatory and neurological systems. I've been doing drawings like these since I was a child. It's a bit obsessive and I never make errors nor erase lines. So, I think you are right, I believe my work does fit together as a whole. And it’s definitely a world within itself. However, I think that my work definitely requires time to comprehend. By the way, one day you should take a photo booth portrait with me. Perhaps we'll have a burger too.
MICHAEL: Of course. What role do you think art plays in the world today? This is especially given the fact that many people don't have personal relationships with art.
HARTH: I think some art can allow people to have personal relationships with art. For example, my messages on currency. I think artists who can do that, who can make work that crosses barriers and crosses outside of the white-walled gallery are doing that. I think it’s important to reach out to people who don't normally get to experience art. That's part of the reason why I often make performance works that happen on the street. It’s free for anyone to witness and experience. It's sad that art programs in schools are being dropped. I think it’s important like language and music. Even in terms of a psychological outlet for children and adolescents growing up. I think it’s a needed form of expression. Not something really taught, more something discovered. Art is crucial. Remember Richard Serra's drawing of the Abu Ghraib prisoner? Or I think about David Wojnarowicz or Robert Mapplethorpe. Work by such artists tend to have a profound effect on our community and world. Art can have a deep impact. I think when powerful art infiltrates the main stream, that’s when people who lack personal relationships with art all of a sudden get involved, even if only being so by being aware.
MICHAEL: Art events and time-based art appear to be the latest directions for contemporary art. Where else do you think contemporary art is headed? Will it become more or less accessible for people?
HARTH: I do think time-based art has been happening for a while. For example, one of my favorites, Tehching Hsieh. And of course, there is Marina Abramović. But I do understand what you mean. I think the internet has helped somehow. And the different ways of documenting and recording time-based work. With internet, video, photographs, etc. Even live streams. I think moving forward, we'll also see more art that is interactive with social media. I think when Jerry Saltz joined Facebook that changed a lot of things. It opened up an entire dialogue that was not even existent before. That is also happening with art. Although, perhaps my perspective is skewed a bit since I'm making such works and not often seeing such works. But I think that direction is approaching. And then there is 3D printing, Google glasses, and this follows digital cameras and online book publishing and the iPhone and iPhoneography. All great tools which have opened up new opportunities for artists. I think art will become more accessible to people, however, I think the access will be more virtual in numbers compared to access in person. And I don't see anything wrong with that. I'd rather have people accessed than none at all.
MICHAEL: We’re accessed Harth. That’s how we connected. This was a fantastic chat. Stay in touch.
Check out David Greg Harth and his work at www.davidgregharth.com.