Everything is art for Mark Hearld and his joy at the natural world around him is plain to see in his vibrant designs, says Janet Menzies
After a short time chatting with mixed media artist Mark Hearld, the rather uplifting realisation emerges that everyone is an artist – perhaps. Certainly everything is art when seen through Hearld’s eyes. It is his infectious wonder and delight at the living world around him that makes Hearld’s collages, prints and designs so exciting. Every inch and millimetre is crammed with beautifully observed French partridges or hares or deer or finches or even a hoopoe, with foliage escaping out of the picture and on to the frame. Bounding across all this with a scruffy flourish is the aptly named Brio, the artist’s dog.
Hearld says: “I have always had dogs, including a cantankerous Patterdale [is there any other sort?], and my parents have a working whippet, which I shared. Then at Christmas 2020, I saw a litter of lurcher-poodles and I thought ‘what a great cross’. I wanted a sighthound but also the gentleness of the poodle. And aesthetically it had to work as an artist’s dog. Brio is incredibly bright. I worked with a professional gundog trainer to train her and she was really responsive. I walk with her twice a day just outside York. I leave my house and walk straight on to the Knavesmire, where the racecourse is, so I always begin with a walk in nature. It means Brio is calm and relaxed and I see roe deer and fallow deer, and the sense of seasons gives me so much inspiration, especially as they are changing. Doing this every day brings me life and energy.
“Brio means oomph and bounce and verve. When I did the collage Con Brio, I began by cutting the sharp and hairy silhouette of her and then created an arena for her to be in and gradually built up section by section. I wanted to surround it by borders, and I allowed the leaf motif to spread over on to them. Collage is all about edges, but I want the image to spill and give movement to the composition. The holly in the collage is a quote from 16th-century representations of trees; they represent a whole tree in a sprig, so they will give a species of tree with just the leaf.”
Many of Hearld’s designs cross over into textiles, and tapestries have been made of several of his collages. He is keen to do more tapestry: “I love these historic tapestries. One of my favourite rooms in England is in Hardwick Hall. The form of the tapestry and the collage have so many things in common. They are both full of technical complexities.”
Dating from the late 16th century, Hardwick Hall is crammed with tapestries and textiles collected by Bess of Hardwick, especially the series of 13 Gideon tapestries in the Long Gallery. From earlier in the 16th century, the series of six The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Musee de Cluny is another major influence for Hearld, along with the Devonshire Hunting tapestries at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Hearld’s references to these defining images of the medieval and early modern world are barely consciously felt, but their richness gives an extra depth. Hearld explains: “I want it to be an image of mine but also a response. I am interested in stuff, basically, and I am interested in anything with visual merit. I love collecting things.”
Anyone who has ever picked up a pheasant feather on a day’s shooting and stuck it in their hat, or wondered at the fractals of a cast antler, is on their way to joining Hearld’s democratic art movement. He stresses: “It is all about joy. What I want to do with my work and my books is to evangelise about the beauty I see and feel on a daily basis. What I post on Instagram is all about the world around me, immediately, as I see it. It has been said that creativity is about play, but play with the seriousness of playing children. I believe you should surround yourself with the things you find beautiful. One of the things I talk about in my latest book is placement of objects in the house and the objective to create a wonderful rich interior. It is a combination of the conscious and the chance element of other things that gives the interior its life.
“My own house has many cabinets of curiosity and I want them all to show design. My own objects from my house tell a story about the pleasure of making and living with things. I enjoy designing everything, even a simple folding greetings card. There is something great about making the ephemeral. I like being a democratiser for art.”
Inspired, I look around my own recently bought 1980s bungalow and notice the Jacobean black oak trestle table with an elderly oil of a grey racehorse hanging above it, the canvas almost as black as the table, and I am immensely cheered.
You can see Mark Hearld surrounded by his art and his objects during York Open Studios on 2–3 and 9–10 April 2022 from 10am to 5pm. More at yorkopenstudios.co.uk. His new book, Raucous Invention: the Joy of Making was reviewed in the March issue of The Field and can be ordered at raucousinvention.co.uk. To buy some of Hearld’s work in fabric or wallpaper, visit stjudesprints.co.uk