I had the opportunity to sit down with the delightful Jeff Hargreaves while he was in Charleston for the opening of his beautiful show, “Workbench”. We had a great chat about all things art, as he answered some, at times probing, questions about his work, and the nature of his creative process.
JM: Jeff, let me start by asking what your definition of art is.
JH: Art comes in all forms, but if we’re speaking of painting, art for me is representational art. It is as much about the craft as it is the idea behind it. I want to see the creative skill involved, that the work has a degree of execution, that it is more than just an idea.
JM: Do you feel that as an artist you have a role in society, and if so what would it be?
JH: I think society needs art and artists, and this may sound a bit self-centered, but I have to admit that I do what I do for myself. It’s something I need to do. It’s the process that I really love. It’s not about fitting in to someone else’s concept of what a “real artist” is.
JM: Let’s talk about process a bit, can you describe yours and its importance in your work?
JH: I enjoy the process of painting, it’s extremely important in my work. I love getting into the painting and the subject. I like to spend time making decisions. It not something I want to rush. Painting is a journey. For me it’s about finding a better way, of having the “AHA” moment, when the light goes on and the realization of the application of a rule becomes clear, and I say to myself, “that’s what they mean…”
JM: When you begin a new painting, do you start with the concept first or the subject?
JH:A painting begins with the concept first, though it can often be simultaneous with the subject. For Workbench, I did have a collection of these tools, and had been thinking about the series for a while. But each painting started with a concept, often the story I wanted to tell, or maybe the subject itself dictated how I conceived of the painting. For example in “Stanley 150”, I knew the painting needed two areas of light to showcase the vertical detail on the piece itself, but I wanted the strong horizontal light in the cloth and wood to be the primary light. As the painting developed, though, I realized that the light on the Stanley itself became important and interesting, yet it is balanced by the horizontal light. Balance plays a big role in my compositions. Concept is always something I’m thinking about, so often, when I’m browsing at the flea market, I will find the piece that satisfies the concept.
JM: That’s interesting, so after you have the concept and have found the great object that will express it, what is the major consideration in your compositions?
JH: Balance in design. I use the Golden Mean when thinking about a composition, and always keep thinking of the design within the framework of the canvas format.
JM: Does photography play a role in your work?
JH: I paint from life, though I always photograph the set up and sometimes refer to it later if I need to take down the setup, but still want to do some work on the piece. I never set up a subject, take a photograph and paint from that. All my work is started from life.
JM: Do you think your work reflects your personality?
JH: I always feel that if I can paint something meaningful for me, someone else will have the same feeling. I like to paint things I find beautiful and create a thing a beauty. It’s something I never tire of.
JM: This leads me to my next question, how as an artist, do you find your individuality?
JH: I don’t know that it’s something you can plan to do. I don’t think you can be anything other than who you are. The more you are in the painting process – the more you are in it because it is who you are – the more you figure out your individual voice.
JM: Would you say your work is more intellectual or emotional?
JH: I would say the concept is always emotional, but the process needs to be intellectual. I have to concentrate, and the execution needs to be controlled.
JM: I have a question about the painting “Monkey Wrench” which is 48 x 36. It is much larger than your other work, and the wrench is painted larger than life. We are told that in fine art, objects can be painted life-size or smaller, but never larger. Why the “big red wrench”?
JH: Originally, I did an 8×10 study. I brought it to a critique group I belong to, and one of the artists there said, “That red wrench is really striking, wouldn’t it be great as a really large painting?” I decided to go with it, and what a learning experience it turned out to be! All the familiarity of painting in my typical sizes of 18 x 24, or 20 x 24 was out the window. I had to approach it in a completely different manner, from the size brushes I used, to the amount of paint – I had to be much more generous – to the brushstrokes themselves. It became a real challenge and an opportunity to grow as a painter, there was an entirely new group of problems to solve.
JM: Well, you certainly solved them! The piece is gorgeous and it is so striking. Will you be painting in a larger format again?
JH: Yes, absolutely when I have the right concept.
JM: What is your next project on the easel?
JH: Well, I’m still involved with tool objects. I feel I still have more stories to tell with them, but I’m also thinking of doing a series based on women. It is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m not sure yet just what form it will take, other than it will be more figurative, but it will definitely tell stories. That’s the reason I paint, to tell a story with my paintings.
Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your thoughts with us. It has been a pleasure and we look forward to seeing more of your work here in the gallery.It wasn’t all art talk for Jeffrey while he was in Charleston. He and his lovely wife, Ruth, had the opportunity to tour the city and here he is enjoying some fresh off the boat local oysters at his first ever oyster roast.
By Julie Messerschmidt