Muse Interviews

Q&A: Harriet Wood, Street Artist

Street artist, Harriet Wood, discusses the accessibility of graffiti art and its potential as an activist’s tool

How did you get involved in street art?
I started painting when I was thirteen - I have always drawn and loved art and I have had a fascination with murals and large scale artwork ever since I can remember. My dad is an amazing illustrator so I’ve always been inspired and encouraged to be creative! I found it really frustrating that I couldn’t use a spray can as well as a pencil or paintbrush when I was younger so was immediately hooked and determined to improve my skills with aerosol!

Where do you draw inspiration from for your work? Are there any other artists who have influenced you?
My dad! But I am also constantly inspired by the things I see around me: patterns, fabrics, textures and designs... Some of my closest mates are incredible artists, including people like Grace Uhuru, The Hass, Sledone, Sophie Bass, just to name a few. I also love El Mac, Etam Cru, Aryz, Jago, Paris and many others!

What do you want to say with your art?
I paint many things but one of my favourites to paint is a female portrait. This is because I like to represent the underrepresented – whether that be certain communities, cultures or backgrounds. I think that women deserve a bigger presence in the world, so painting them with powerful attitudes and bright colours in the streets is a favourite for me!

Do you produce any other kinds of artwork besides street art?
I have a degree in Graphic Design and I freelance as a designer, and I also illustrate and design tattoos. Recently I have been going back to using acrylic paints on canvas too, as well as spending lots of time drawing in my sketchbook.

Street art is one of the most accessible forms of art. Do you think that all art should have this level of accessibility?
Yes! I have got a strange dislike for galleries because so many of their spaces feel so patronising and inaccessible. The art world is a funny one and while I entirely encourage all artists to get paid well for their work, I don’t like the idea of art being unaffordable or above anyone. I like the inclusiveness of street art and how it really is available to everyone and anyone.

Some people have differing opinions about where the line between street art and vandalism is. What is your take on this?
The difference is all down to permission! Vandalism is painting or writing on a wall that you do not have permission to paint on. Street art can be vandalism as a result but then the definition of it being “art” or not is all down to the opinion of the viewer. Graffiti fits under the umbrella of street art, which to me is any kind of art - spray, sculpture, stickers, posters, pen - which is then installed in the public, street environment.

Have you ever faced any adversity from people who do not deem graffiti “proper” art?
Yes - I think most graffiti artists have been screamed at while painting in the street at some point. Haha! I think it’s fine to not like it, and it’s also okay to express that - that is the nature of public art. It is out there for everyone to have an opinion on, and no one has to like it. However, it is also not okay to be rude or abusive to people - so it’s finding a happy medium when voicing that opinion... I think!

Tell me about Bristol’s ‘ARTIVISM’ collective and the ‘Raise the Roof ’ exhibition.
I am a part of the Art Block Collective and we are a group of artists who create art as a form of activism. We are based in Bristol (I moved here from up north for university nine years ago) and organised the Raise the Roof exhibition to raise awareness of Bristol’s housing crisis and to raise some funding for Acorn who help to house people.

The offer of free tickets for the ‘Raise the Roof’ exhibition for homeless people was fantastic. Tell us about why you chose to do this:
Homelessness can and does happen to anyone. Not having a base or anywhere stable to call home is such a damaging and difficult experience, we wanted the exhibition to be available to anyone no matter what their situation is. Being homeless is so isolating and alienating, so we wanted this event to feel welcoming and unifying for anyone who might be experiencing the crippling effects of the rapidly increasing rents and lack of affordable housing.

What other initiatives or projects are you working on at the moment?
I have just got back from three weeks travelling around New York, Boston, Salt Lake City and Philly painting murals, so I am trying to catch up on some sleep while also being the busiest I have ever been. I have got a lot of commissions lined up this summer, including a refresh of Evil Eye Lounge in York and some stages to paint at Glastonbury, so keep your eyes peeled! I have also just launched some new products and prints on my online store, check it out!

Interview by Jodie Sheehan

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