You'll never be a fine artist - what Harry Pearce of Pentagram did next
You'll never be a fine artist - what Harry did next
By Alex Blyth, Editorial Director
A few weeks into term an esteemed tutor looked over Harry Pearce’s work and said decisively: “No, you’ll never be a fine artist. Have you considered graphic design?”
That was 1978. Last night he shared with writers’ group 26 what he did next, founding and running his own design firm for 16 years before becoming a partner at Pentagram, creating work for the Royal Academy of Arts, Pink Floyd, Saks Fifth Avenue, Shakespeare’s Globe, the UN, and many more, as well as having work exhibited across the globe.
He began at the end, sharing his father’s final words: “I can see now that time moves in all directions simultaneously,” and then he took us on an intriguing tour across time, drawing out the themes that have shaped his design thinking and output.
We saw in his work for Fedrigoni how absence can be more poignant than presence. He showed us the ways he captures his dreams and uses them in his work. We heard how he made pigs fly for Pink Floyd. And we appreciated the advice he received from a friend on the first draft of his book – “Put that one in the bin, drink a couple of glasses of wine, and write as you would for a 12-year old”.
Particularly striking was his work commemorating 70 years since the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He dropped his own blood into water, finding precisely the right temperature to create a deep red cloud similar to an atomic explosion. The comments from his college tutor had deterred Harry from venturing into art with his work, but here he was experimenting with it and to what effect!
Such striking work perhaps inevitably attracted criticism. It was his friend Stefan Sagmeister who urged him to stand up to the critics and feel confident about putting his work into the world, but it was the reaction of Japanese visitors to the show that convinced him he was right to feel confident in it.
We heard of his love for Marcel Duchamp’s texticles. Look them up if you don’t know.
And we heard how Ai Weiwei saw Harry’s work and told him it was far better than anything he would have created. What would Harry’s tutor have made of that?
And lastly we heard what makes Harry cross: people not taking their work seriously. He clearly does. He feels privileged to be able to create for a living. He feels the social impact of the work he creates.
And as we left Pentagram’s Notting Hill studio into the damp January night, we reflected on the impact that has had – on how, regardless of where the inspiration comes from, be it half-remembered dreams, misguided tutors, French surrealists, or intriguing last words, there is magic and beauty out there. If only you choose to look.