Harriet Richardson chats to Bow Arts about utilizing design skills for good, calling herself an artist, and just how important affordable studio space is in London.
Introduce yourself and tell us about your practice.
My name is Harriet Richardson, I’m a 28-year-old female Artist from Manchester, and I’ve been based in central London for the past 7 years. After studying Graphic Design at the University of Central Lancashire, I moved to London to join design behemoth Pentagram, where I worked as a Designer for 5 years. During my time there I experienced a creative awakening in the form of the ‘Youth For Climate’ protest that I attended in 2019. Long story short, I bunked off work with a protest sign that I quickly bashed together reading ‘Leonardo Dicaprio’s Girlfriends Deserve A Future’. Writing has always been closely interlinked with my creative work, and this felt like an opportunity to use that skill. During my time at the protest and in the days that followed, I realised that creating authentical work for causes that mean something to me stood head and shoulders above the feeling I got from doing the same for large, capitalistic corporations.
Since that moment, I’ve been working on striking the balance between practicing as an Artist and utilizing my design skills for good. It’s not easy, but what I have learned is, it’s possible. The element that connects both my design and artwork is the presence of a concept. I would describe my artwork as contemporary and conceptual, taking the form of online performance, print, sculpture, and sometimes even wearable pieces, that explore themes of provocation, climate, politics, gender and sex.
Congratulations on your first exhibition! How did you find it and what were the main focuses of it?
Thank you! The entire experience sat on a spectrum from mortifyingly scary to completely fulfilling. I didn’t expect to feel so exposed when members of the public could freely work amongst and interact with my work. When I started showing my art, it often it took the form of online posts in which I had the luxury of muting my phone if I didn’t want to engage with people’s reactions. This was totally different.
My micro-exhibition titled ‘Out of Order’ took place across 3 cubicles of an abandoned public toilet. On reflection, the title didn’t help foot traffic. It was comprised of 3 separate cubicles which housed the following: This first was a projection of my short film ‘Little Girls Room’, in which the viewer was encouraged to be seated on the toilet to watch. The second, a gallery of selfie-style photographs taken on the toilet titled ‘Photodump’, and finally the third was a cubicle plastered with scanner images of my exposed breasts titled ‘The World’s Least Instagrammable Toilet Selfie’, in which visitors were invited to take a female nipple-laden selfie and post it to Instagram.
As I’m sure you can imagine, the reactions were a total mix, but the most rewarding part came from the positive reactions of people I’d never met, explaining how the pieces made them feel. Nothing compares to knowing you’re able to share a vision with someone and have it affect them in ways beyond your control.
What are you working on at the moment?
Myself and my work! I’ve been in psychotherapy for the last 3 years and it’s changed the trajectory of my life hugely. Without the work I’ve done with my therapist, I don’t think I would’ve had the strength or vision to leave my full-time corporate job to peruse what I love. I recommend everyone try therapy at least once. It’s not for everyone, but the value in speaking to a professional stranger about your feelings is not to be overlooked.
In terms of work, I have my first photobook coming out very soon titled ‘Scandalous’, which is a compilation of scans taken on a work scanner the day before I quit my job. It’s a sort of f*ck you to the world of heartless corporate design in combination with a celebration of my good boob years (they are now).
What does your studio day to day look like?
I’m going to be totally honest with you. The first thing I do when I get to my studio is unbutton my jeans and lie on my Ikea beanbag eating whatever girl breakfast I grabbed along the way (this time of year, it’s a chocolate apple). Then I spend an hour making a detailed to do list, and a further hour finding pointless tasks to delay me in starting my list. Then at around midday, I’ll get to work. This could be anything from coming up with new ideas, working on production, responding to art-related requests, writing talks, or even just staring into space and manifesting. I try my best to not do my design work in my studio, as I find separating the two creatively beneficial.
“Growing up, I always associated Artists with the mum from About a Boy or people who ate cold beans from a can or cut their earlobes off. To young me, it was a luxury for the top 1% or something you only did if you’d lost the plot.”Harriet Richardson
What challenges do you face as an artist?
The biggest challenge I face as an Artist is calling myself an Artist. I grew up in a working-class town in Manchester and trained in Graphic Design which taught me to believe that being artistically talented was only of worth if you could A) Make money from it and B) make money for someone else (aka. brand work). Growing up, I always associated Artists with the mum from About a Boy or people who ate cold beans from a can or cut their earlobes off. To young me, it was a luxury for the top 1% or something you only did if you’d lost the plot. Obviously, now I see that couldn’t be further from the truth (for most of the time – I do sometimes lose the plot and eat cold beans). It makes me upset that so many working-class children are being discouraged from practicing art. Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth (I didn’t come up with that, it’s Pablo Picasso).
I should also point out that I have nothing against the world of corporate graphic design or the people in it. I just think that, if you are a designer, you should question who you are designing for and why you’re doing it. This exercise led me to work exclusively with progressive people on good projects – which you’ll be happy to know is a lot easier than you may think.
Do you have any favourite spots (galleries, shops, cafes) in Lambeth?
How long have you got? I’ll start with food because obviously that’s the most important. Juliet’s in Tooting has been a firm favourite of mine for years – I recommend the smoked sweet potato omelette. For something more cost effective but just as delicious, Full Fat in Brixton Hill does a BLT Chapatti for £3.50 which is to die for. Finally, the Van Gogh Café, conveniently near my Vauxhall studio, is a brilliant vegan, not for profit social enterprise who also provide jobs for people with learning disabilities. And it’s Van Gogh themed, what more could you want?
In terms of galleries, to be totally honest the artwork that I see on the streets seems to be the best place to view art in Lambeth. There was a big papier-mâché crab in Brixton Market a few months ago by local Artist Layla Andrews which was the best thing I’ve seen in a long time.
How has having an affordable studio in Durham Street impacted your practice?
Being given the opportunity to practice my artwork in a space other than my bedroom has been the making of what I do. Not only do I have the privilege to create a total mess, but I also really appreciate spending time alone to think and be free.
The 80 artists sharing my space at Durham Street are facing potential eviction at the beginning of 2024 due to the sale of the building. I strongly believe that it is crucial to secure a new Bow Arts location in South London to ensure both the current and future artists can continue to thrive and progress in their artistic endeavours.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
Yes. I have one in London at the beginning of next year and one in Germany too! I’m not going to give away the details just yet in case I totally bottle it, but follow me on Instagram @hatsrichardson for all work-related and food-based content.
Read more about Harriet Richardson
Harriet Richardson is a London-based artist and designer, known for her conceptual, graphic art. Born in Manchester, Richardson’s work is heavily influenced by her upbringing and experiences in the UK. She studied graphic art at a local college before moving to Preston to attend the prestigious University of Central Lancashire. On the day of her graduation, Richardson relocated to London, where she has been for the last 8 years.
Richardson’s art is known for its bold, graphic style, versatility, and conceptual underpinnings. She often explores themes of identity, sexuality, and social issues in her work. Her pieces are a mix of traditional mediums such as painting and drawing, as well as digital and new media, such as scanning and digital image manipulaton.
In addition to her fine art practice, Richardson also works as a graphic designer and illustrator, after refining her craft at design behemoth Pentagram for 4 years. She has exhibited her work in galleries and museums across the UK and Europe, and her art can be found in private and public collections around the world.
Durham Street, Vauxhall
We provide artists with affordable workspaces, bringing together fellow creatives and providing them with plenty of opportunities for growth and development. Our studio holders directly support the arts, with part of their rent going straight back into supporting London’s creative community, through Bow Arts’ schools’ programme, workshops and gallery.