I first came across Harlie’s art on Instagram when a mutual friend had shared one of her painted vases. It’s safe to say it was love at first sight! Based in London, Harlie is an artist that produces pieces that evoke emotion, by way of her use of vivid, striking colour in images of nature and the female body. I sat down to talk to Harlie, via email conversation, about the journey she and her art have taken to get to where they are today.
Like the rest of us, the pandemic and lockdown has affected Harlie’s work and daily routine, and she’s had to adapt to this new way of life. Her day job is working as a primary school PPA teacher, which she’s now unable to do. But it’s also allowed her to focus more on her art. “Having other commitments prior to lockdown meant that I spent most of time wishing I was in front of my easel and dwelling on the possibilities of painting full time”, she tells me. And with all this additional time for her art, she says “I now cannot see myself ever being anything other than an artist.”
“Having other commitments prior to lockdown meant that I spent most of time wishing I was in front of my easel and dwelling on the possibilities of painting full time … I now cannot see myself ever being anything other than an artist.”
The current situation has also highlighted ways in which art can be used to help in these bleak times. Harlie decided to use her art to fundraise for the NHS Charities Together Campaign by offering one of her paintings as a raffle prize. She says that the NHS looked after her Dad, telling me “I knew I wanted to raise money and give somebody else a bit of positivity, an abstract floral piece as a token of my gratitude.” Harlie managed to raise an incredible £1775.
In her own words, Harlie’s art works to “celebrate the female form.” I asked her why she chose to centre the female form in her pieces. “I like the thought of myself, a female, being in control of painting the female subject, unlike years and years of art history suggesting that the female is solely the subject and the male is the viewer and the creator.”
She also adds “the female body is simply beautiful and I love to see the transformation of the language the subject is portraying, to the language that I portray as an artist and then to the viewer’s interpretation of the language in the art.” A key aspect of this process for Harlie is having women as active participants in her art. She describes this process as “monumental in celebrating the supportive females around me, whether that be friends, family or strangers.”
It also provides a safe space for women to celebrate their bodies and their own nudity, without shame or judgement. It’s a process that centres empowerment and body confidence. “It encourages women to be comfortable in their skin and to be proud of their body. I fully support body confidence in a world that tells you to cover up, and if I manage to make women feel more empowered through my art then this is a massive bonus for me” says Harlie.
“I fully support body confidence in a world that tells you to cover up, and if I manage to make women feel more empowered through my art then this is a massive bonus for me.”
But like many other artists and creatives, she has had to deal with her fair share of censorship, with last year bringing the deactivation of both her personal and work Instagram accounts. The reason given for this was her content being too ‘sexually suggestive.’ The censorship of female bodies is an utterly baffling topic. The fact that a man’s nipples are absolutely fine on social media but a woman’s nipples are considered ‘sexual content’ says a lot about how society views women’s bodies.
I asked Harlie how having her accounts disabled made her feel and she was of course devastated, “having lost various commissions in the DMs and losing pictures of older work”. She adds that “it saddens me that my practice has tended to move away from full-bodied nudes and more into nude line paintings as I had to censor the full bodied nudes by blurring the nipples or covering them up.”
Instagram still hasn’t provided her with a response as to how her content breached community guidelines, despite the guidelines stating nudity in art is allowed. But she’s hopeful that “someday, women’s chests will not bear such a burden.”
Yet, social media can be a force for good for artists like Harlie. And especially now in today’s climate when unity and togetherness have never been more important. Harlie tells me about the Artist Support Pledge and the effect it’s had on her and her art. Set up by Matthew Burrows, the Pledge aims to help artists showcase and sell their work.
An artist posts images of their work on Instagram using the #artistsupportpledge, which they’re willing to sell for no more than £200, and people buy their work this way. Each time an artist reaches £1000 in sales, they then pledge to spend £200 on another artist’s work.
About the pledge, Harlie says “it’s helped me greatly with selling pieces and also connecting with other artists. I have found so many new artists myself through the pledge and it’s been great to connect with some of them.” She’s currently looking to buy a piece of art from another artist, under the pledge, so she can keep contribute to keeping the support network going.
It’s not just the female form that her artwork showcases, but also gorgeous images of nature. I ask her what it is about nature that inspires these pieces. She says “nature has the capability to calm and soothe negative feelings. By painting nature, particularly when I paint outside, I get a sense of peace and it gives me an opportunity to relax and recharge my mind.”
This is something you can definitely see in the artwork she produces around themes of nature. They’re a serene snapshot of Mother Nature, through the combined use of colour, shapes, and brush strokes. Harlie is currently particularly fascinated with willow trees and wisteria, saying “I love the continuity of them and the way they hang reminds me of a human body when we are totally relaxed and comfortable in our surroundings.”
The pandemic situation has altered all our lives, and artists like Harlie are finding new and creative ways to help and keep this creativity and their industry going. Through incentives like fundraisers and the Artist Support Pledge, we will hopefully continue to see and enjoy Harlie’s beautiful artwork.
See more at https://www.harliebriggsart.co.uk/. All images reprinted with permission of the artist.