Inside this issue
Alex Hartley was born in Surrey in 1963. He studied sculpture at Camberwell School of Art and The Royal College of Art. He has exhibited widely since the 1990s including Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy London, Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin, Yokohama Triennial, Folkestone Triennial, Blaffer Museum Huston, ISCP Brooklyn, Louisiana Museum Denmark, and Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh.
Shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, Banff mountain book festival, and winner of the Sculpture at Goodwood commission award, Arts Foundation Award, Coal Prize, Artists’ Take the Lead 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Hartley currently lives and works in Devon, UK.
In 2012 I paused by my local river and everything changed. I’ve moved away from what many expect photographs to be: my images deconstruct the literal and reimagine the subjective, reflecting the curiosity that water has inspired in my practice. Water has been my conduit: it has sharpened my vision, given me permission to experiment and continues to introduce me to new ways of seeing.
Talking to Alex Hartley it becomes clear that photography can be much more than just a two-dimensional representation. At first sight, you might be tempted to think that his images record that which he has encountered or seen, but that would fail to understand the nature of his work which is as much about sculpture as it is photography. His output is varied, though there are common threads that run through and above all a concern for the human condition and the planet. I’ve been particularly interested in what he says about photography being used to disseminate and ultimately measure the success of exhibitions; the blurring of the lines between exhibit and gallery; and how his works not only reintroduce 3D into their display but immerse the viewer in them.
Would you like to start by telling readers a little about yourself – where you grew up, your early interests and education, and what that led you to do?
I grew up in commuter-belt suburban Surrey and moved to London as soon as I could. I didn’t particularly shine at school and art was the only thing that didn’t feel like a struggle. I spent a lot of time as a kid on my bike, in woods, killing time at the edges of suburbia. I went travelling in India and Nepal on my own at eighteen trying to work out what to do next. Growing up, there was no family relationship with the landscape, and it was only after I got a car and a tent in my twenties that I discovered a love of walking and hiking in the natural world beyond the city.
I went to Camberwell School of Arts in South London for foundation and continued there for a degree in sculpture. Trips and excursions out from London were quite formative, camping and making sculptures in the quarries on Portland, visiting Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and tentative hikes in the Cairngorms and Grampians. During the Foundation year, something clicked and I started to get properly excited about the freedom of art school and the possibilities of making. This was the nascent period of the YBA’s coming through Goldsmiths, characterised by a strong theoretical grounding and a collective support structure. Camberwell on the other hand felt like we were offered fantastic space and facilities and essentially left to get on with it. This largely suited me and I had a fantastic time, but it left a lot of catching up to do when I arrived at the Royal College for MA Sculpture where most of the other students had a more developed understanding of conceptual discourse, career direction and ambition.