Harrie Fasher

Harrie Fasher’s bronze and steel equine forms evoke the human vulnerabilities of life, death, struggle and war. Her recent series brings together pieces of various scales, illustrating the breadth of her conceptually nuanced and technically dextrous practice.

Harrie, why the enduring appeal of horses?
I don’t see my sculptures as literal representations of horses. The connection between horses and humanity throughout history is so strong, as is my personal connection, that I have really always used the horse in my work as a metaphor for human experience. When trying to express fundamentally human struggles and emotions the visual language that I intuitively reach for involves horses. I have spent the majority of my childhood and adulthood in their company, drawing, riding and watching them. They are unique animals; powerful, athletic and perceptive; the intimacy of this bond has never left me. Also there is something about their scale and power that enables them to carry the symbolic weight of big human experiences and feelings.

How do you balance that appeal to a universal sense of humanity with the intimacy of your personal experience?
I think great art is the expression of a personal experience that has a collective resonance. I am not sure if I achieve that, but it is certainly always what I am striving towards. Most of my works are born of both personal experience and research. For example, a work I made recently called Transition (2016) was about an Icelandic myth I had uncovered while on residency there, but simultaneously it is about the personal struggle of moving forward in life.

Similarly, Off the Duckboards (2018) was made in response to research undertaken while travelling with eleven other artists to the Western Front in Europe. The horrors of the conditions of the frontline in World War One astounded me. Duckboards were the wooden walkways laid out for the soldiers to move throughout knee-deep mud and flooded shell holes. If you fell from the duckboards there was a good chance you would drown in the mud. Again I have personal experience of being stuck under a fallen horse. So the sculpture encompasses my personal experience, while also being symbolic of the broader human experience, in this instance, the futility and abominable conditions of war.

I’m glad you brought up the war because I wanted to ask you about The Last Charge (2017), which is often framed as both a career highlight and a point of artistic breakthrough. Did you know it would have that kind of impact when you were making the piece?
I am humbled by the public response and the way that it has been received. My work is very process driven rather than being immaculately planned and I suppose at the time of making it I hadn’t conceived exactly how big the undertaking was going to be. That realisation came quickly and then manifested itself logistically, such as how was I to move around eight life-sized horses in my studio! At the time I didn’t know whether it was brilliant or just plain crazy. I think the artistic process is always full of doubt, like a balancing act between eureka moments of discovery tempered with valleys of trepidation and doubt. At every stage I was dealing with the unknown; another decision. I was playing with the vertical shards that support the structures as a formal compositional element when suddenly they became shell blasts. I could hear them and felt the fear and adrenaline of a cavalry charge.

I’m interested in the way you spoke about hearing the sounds when making because there are often references to silence in the title or a sense of quiet in your use of negative space. Does sound play a part in your work?
Sound has been more of an intuitive influence than a conscious driving force. I spend most of my time on a property in Oberon so stillness and quietude are the norm. Songs without Sound (2018), a kinetic work, depicts a suspended horse form that turns in a circle with the breeze. It has a meditative stillness. Negative space and a sense of absence have always been an important consideration for me. Especially in my larger steel rod sculptures, the tension that is created between the weight and mass of a horse and the lightness of the line-drawn form that is used to describe them is something I spend a lot of time thinking about.

What role does materiality play in your decision-making?
I’m a tactile person and I’ve always been drawn to the materiality of objects. Materiality is in fact what drew me to sculpture in the first place. In my new bronze works materiality really came to the forefront. That is why nearly all the sculptures in this exhibition are unique states, as opposed to being one of an edition. They are constructed directly from organic materials, whose ephemeral textures are now permanent, cast in bronze.

Do you mean organic materials such as the cast bones or stick forms in your ‘Collections’ series?
Yes, exactly. Sticks and man-made fibres like hessian, rope and wood burn out, being replicated by solid bronze. I find this transformation quite magical, the simplicity of very fragile and delicate objects being rendered solid and unbreakable with bronze. I also like that the bronze maintains the fingerprint and direct hand of the artist. While the sticks and steel rods I use share the same formal quality of being linear, the sticks have a natural texture whereas the steel line is very manufactured. There is a work called Equine Study where I have actually forged the steel lines to give them more of a drawn quality. With a stick, you can’t necessarily control the angle, it’s prescribed, and also you can’t bend it to do what you want it do, it tells you what to do. It’s very much a dialogue. There’s a lot of looking, which is why you need time and of course, time is a rarity isn’t it?

Expanding on the idea of time, how do you evoke a sense of speed or slowness in the static form of your work?
Horses are a great subject matter for depicting speed and quiet stillness as they can move with such pace yet also embody such tranquillity. This dichotomy of pace is also prevalent in my process. Slowly I observe a sculpture from all angles, and then make decisions with quite a frenetic energy. I am constantly looking for anatomical cues as to where energy stems from in the figures.

I am inspired by dance both in its actual form and the documentation of performance. In particular, I love movements which contain a precipice or a stillness; a delicate balance that is held for moments which can feel like an eternity, before a movement is going to fall. That is something that I physically experience when I move and it is how the sculpture Caught in Motion (2018) started. I saw a fleeting image from Sydney Dance Company, of a woman draped over a man’s arm, and it spoke to me of the slowness and standstill before imminent motion.

How would you describe our art making process?
It’s very much hands on, and very intuitive, it’s not at all prescribed or designed. I start with a vague notion, and some drawings, and small sculptural studies, then I am chasing the idea and the motive behind it. It’s almost like you are asking the sculpture why you are making it in the first place. In my process of working with bronze, I am still making decisions to the very end. I knew that I was never going to be an artist that could just give something to a foundry. I’m process driven, so to let go of part of that wouldn’t do the work justice. 

This interview was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 44, 2018

Harrie Fasher
4 – 29 August 2020
King Street Gallery on William, Sydney

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