Martin Harris is an Australian based artist living in Melbourne creating technically brilliant works that hark back to childhood memories: toys, monsters, children’s television and the classic ‘Little Golden Books’ series.
In Martin’s work we are taken into a magical place full of large eyed animals, anthropomorphic everyday objects, and constant movement. The viewer is pulled immediately into Martin’s world of animals at play: driving cars, casting spells, conducting science experiments and sometimes simply gathering for a chat.
(Art by Martin below)
With Martin’s work already having a cult following, and his reputation in the global art scene growing faster than a speeding bullet – now is the perfect time to get to know the man and his art, by reading the ‘Art Talk’ interview below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
Martin B Harris
(Art by Martin below)
City, State n Country you currently call home?
City, State n Country you’re from?
Describe a memory from some stages of your life ….basically trying to piece together some pivotal moments. Concerts, art, toys, romance, school, crime… ANYTHING really!
* age 5 – beginnings:
I had a pretty standard childhood, growing up with my parents and my twin brothers (who are 18 months younger than me.)
My parents would encourage and support me in my hobbies, and all that was important to me.
* age 10 – continuations:
Primary school years were the best years of my life.
Visiting friends after school.
I met some of my best friends in prep grade, and am still in touch with three of them. I consider that to be a very special thing. School holidays. Exploring secret places, “haunted houses”, walking through cemeteries, making comics, drawing.
* age 15 – getting serious:
High School years were brutal. Bullying. Art teachers and teachers in general who didn’t inspire, and were harsh and critical in a negative way. Teachers who also bullied or turned a blind eye to it. Forced to do activities such as sport, which I had no interest in, and lacked the physicality required for such activities.
Daydreaming and not wanting to be at school.
Some good things, like puppetry classes as a legitimate subject, and being asked to take on the role of editor of the school magazine.
My school projects and assignments lacked intellectual content, but I did my utmost to make them look good with my drawing, pouring everything I possibly could in to them, to make them look amazing in an artistic sense. The teachers were distracted by the artwork, so I always received good marks for my projects 🙂
Side projects while at high school: Making slasher films on Super-8 with school friends, making my own animation films on Super-8.
* age 20 – young adult:
“Young Adult” should read “still a kid”. I spent three years at home (after high school, which felt like a prison). Now at last I was free to do what I wanted to do. Painting, making comics, spending most of my time at home, getting involved with like-minded folk via Dr Who club meetings.
Living in my own insular world.
After 3 years of that, my first job. A mundane, soul-destroying office job. I felt like I was a kid pretending to be an adult.
When I was 23, my mother passed away from cancer. My whole world collapsed. I was devastated beyond belief. I didn’t have a close circle of friends because I was a loner. I didn’t know how to cope with my grief.
* age 25 – adult mode:
By this time I had a driver’s license (which I only strove to acquire because I wanted to own a Cadillac). I lived the dream. Taking all types of work in order to get myself enough funds to travel.
Then to the UK. It was like I had returned to a home that was not my home. The thought of returning to Australia was not a good one. I went back to the UK four times.
* age 30 – fully formed:
…But not quite! (At least not in a physical sense). I say that because my physical body didn’t do what it was supposed to do, which is to look like an adult male’s body. Instead I was stuck in a body that had never altered or developed since my late teens, and to the present day it still has not. Body image and physical appearance issues big time.
Moving out of home for the first time.
Making new friends.
Still taking temp office jobs as a means to an end. But using those jobs as a way of creating what I wanted to artistically. I became editor of the staff magazine, filling it with cartoons and comic strips.
Making memo pads with cute characters and using the company logo (without prior permission!). My co-workers loved them, which made me feel validated and wanted.
Became completely vegetarian after some failed attempts.
* age 35 – adult continuations:
Working for various publications, including Lonely Planet, creating illustrations for their travel guide books. And continuing to do my own art at the same time.
My father did not live to see my 40th birthday. He was proud of what I had achieved.
Discovering Kaiju, and the world of sofubi!!! I was addicted from this moment on. I felt like a little kid all over again, because a whole new world was opened up to me. Everything I discovered was new to me. My finances and credit card took a beating, but it was so worth it!
I started making some new friends, and doing some normal things. Like having a bit of a social life, for the first time in my adult life.
* age 45 – middle age creeping:
Buying more sofubi!
Eating more candy!
Making more art!
* age 50 – middle age freak out:
Turning 50. It’s a good feeling.
Turning away and switching off from all reality as much as possible. Completely stopped watching television, free-to-air or cable. I made my own entertainment by watching DVDs from my collection.
One which I align myself with is:
“An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will” (The witches creed!).
I am not a witch, FYI.
Treat every living thing with compassion, kindness and respect.
When and why did you first start making art of any type?
As far back as my memory can take me. My mother would sit with me and sketch and make stuff (like knitting, sewing, etc). It came naturally to me without any coercion.
I inherited this gift from my mother, God bless her.
What did you draw and/or make as a pre-teen child?
Drawing things I had seen on TV, in movies, and books and comics. Things from places I had visited. And animals.
What did you draw and/or make as a teen?
Animation films, cartoons, comic strips. Super-8 films.
I made miniature cardboard buildings and placed my pet rabbit next to them for photo shoots. Attack of the giant bunny!
I recall picking up issue 2 of Juxtapoz in my local news agency, which had a Mark Ryden cover feature. I was blown away, as I had never seen anything like it before.
(Paintings by Martin below)
Do you consider what you are making to be art, design, re-hashed crap?
I think what I do has no category or label. But when I say this, I am told by others it is art. So I’ll go with that.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
People who are more concerned with their image, and how they’re perceived by others, than with the work they produce.
People who create to be fashionable, or follow what’s fashionable, rather than producing work that comes from the very depths of their experience.
Best aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
People who follow what’s fashionable thinking that my work is fashionable 🙂
(Some of Martin’s art from 1982 below)
Favourite other artist(s)?
Mark Ryden, Mab Graves, Beatrix Potter, Tezuka, Rudolph Zallinger, Shigeru Komatsuzaki, Richard Scarry, Chas Addams, Scott Musgrove, William Stout, Chris Buzelli, and sofubi toy maker Koji Harmon.
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
I made no decisions. I don’t even know if I’m in ‘the art hustle’. It sounds like something I wouldn’t want to be a part of.
At this juncture, please allow me to introduce Foxy, who is my manager and agent.
(Photo below of Martin’s manager / agent Foxy)
Describe the process of producing your art? – materials, process, turning an ethereal idea into tangible art etc… (dot point all o.k.)
* your paintings?
Materials I Use:
Watercolour paints, gouache paint, art board, tiny brushes and customised brushes (involving tearing out bristles).
I label all my brushes with the year I started to use them, and I keep all my brushes.
For small-sized paintings I draw up a basic sketch and then refine it.
Then it goes through further stages of refinement, if I feel it requires more work, or some aspect needs altering.
For larger pieces (which can be up to approx A3 in size), I make small sketches, sometimes no bigger than a few centimetres.
Then I enlarge them on a photocopier and start literally (physically – ie, not using a computer) cutting and pasting. It gets very messy, with bits and pieces stuck all over the place.
Then I refine all the characters and other images I have sketched.
I then place the sketches where I think they should go in the piece.
I set a size, which usually remains the same by the time the piece is complete.
The concept and planning stage can also involve a lot of research. It can take me many, many hours, days, or even weeks before I have made a complete draft.
Then I take this final draft to the painting/execution stage, working and concentrating on one aspect only at a time.
I am completely and utterly focused on each aspect I paint.
The finished painting may sometimes stray a little from the draft, but in most cases it will remain the same, because the draft is like my blueprint or foundation.
Sometimes I will think of a title for the piece before I think of an image. I like it when that happens.
I work best at night time and after midnight. A supply of candy is usually always in close range!
(Photos below showing Martin’s painting process)
* your sketches?
Materials I Use:
Graphite (pencil), tracing paper. I don’t know why, but I always seem to get the best results when I draw onto archival tracing paper, as opposed to art paper.
(Sketches by Martin below)
Thoughts on the current state of the ole Australian Art Scene?
The only way I keep up with what’s going on in the art scene in Australia (or the world) is via social media.
How did you and veritable Australian pop art institution ‘Outré Gallery’ come to connect?
In Y2000 Outré put an exhibition together called LITTLE RIPPERS. It was an opportunity for local non-established artists, or local artists of any kind, to show their works.
My dear friend Sean Bowley, whom I have known since we were 19, was working at Outré at the time. He put my name forward and encouraged me to show my stuff.
Odds n Ends
Please describe your experiences growing up in Australia?
I am a product of that distant world called 1960-70s Australian suburbia.
Please describe what you think the Australian Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
Real estate prices, outlandish SUVs, bagging the poo of miniature dogs in inner-city parks, the Jolly Swagman on ice!
Who was your 1st crush and why?
Around the age of 7 it was Angela Cartwright.
She played Penny Robinson in LOST IN SPACE.
(Photo below of Angela Cartwright – Martin’s first crush – circa her ‘Lost in Space’ days)
Does sex change everything?
It doesn’t interest me.
Affection is all I’ve ever needed.
Which cartoon character, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
(Please sketch a prototype of your design.)
Ummmm… I think this question is not for me.
I don’t think about these kinds of things.
Who would win in a fight and why: An angry Koala Vs. Tiger Mask?
(Please draw the battle in all it’s violent beauty!)
I’ve never created this type of scenario in my artwork because physical fighting is something I would never think about.
Will this do?
(Art by Martin below of Krypton Koala and Tiger Mask forming an alliance)
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
I can’t recall my latest dream. But I can recall dreams I had years and decades ago, quite clearly.
Usually most of my dreams involve cakes, toys and parallel universes.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
That I was not intentionally hurtful to any person or living creature on this planet.
That I created something that made the world in which we live just a little bit nicer to live in.
When people who have bought my art tell me they love it, or that it makes them happy, I am overwhelmed with joy. I feel like that is my purpose – to bring some happiness and good vibes.
Creating is my raison det’re.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
Not the slightest interest in them.
I can go to places not of this world without drugs, just by daydreaming or using my imagination.
What role did toys play in your childhood?
Toys are everything to me. They are the catalyst for imagination, storytelling and play.
Toys in my childhood were – still are, and shall continue to be – an integral part of my world. They inspire me and connect me to a realm of enchantment and innocence.
(Some of Martin’s current toy collection below)
What are the top 3 items you own? – please include photos or art of them!
I’ll be cheeky and list six 🙂
1. Friendly Kaiju Booska.
This is a licensed toy based on the 1966 Japanese TV series. It is made in Japan by Masataro Toys (which consists of one talented Japanese craftsman).
Everything about this toy is hand-made from scratch, right down to the box and the wooden stand that accompanies it.
He makes them in batches of 10, and there were not many made (maybe around 50 in total??)
(Photo below of Martin’s Booska)
2. ‘Saint Barbie’ by Mark Ryden gicleé print.
This is my favourite painting by lowbrow pop artist and genius Mark Ryden.
I was walking by Outré Gallery in 1998 and this huge framed print was sitting pride of place on an easel in the middle of the gallery’s window. I immediately stopped and could not believe what I had just seen. I had only been aware of Mark Ryden’s work three years prior, and to see this was a like dream come true! A few minutes later I had it put on lay-by.
It is perfection!
(Photo below of Martin’s Mark Ryden print)
3. Dr Seuss toy made by Poynter Toys.
Made in Japan for the US market.
I remember first seeing this in my local toy shop and bought it with my pocket money (I recall it cost me around one dollar!). But after heavy play wear it eventually fell to pieces. So I found this one on eBay, which still has the original tag! Apparently these Dr Seuss toys were made without licensing and there was a big legal wrangle at the time they were released.
They are very rare to find now.
(Photo below of Martin’s Dr Seuss toy)
4. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, published in the United States by Warren and edited by the legendary Forrest J Ackerman.
The discovery of this magazine was a pivotal moment for me at the age of 11.
Many years later I met Forrest at WorldCon Sci-Fi festival, which was held at the Southern Cross Hotel Melbourne in 1985. He was very kind, and I was able to express to him my fascination and love for the magazine that meant so much to me.
This particular issue is my favourite because of the cover artwork by Ken Kelly.
(Photo below of some of Martin’s copies of the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine)
5. Dinky Toys number 100 – Lady Penelope’s six-wheeled pink Rolls Royce FAB1 from THUNDERBIRDS.
Made and crafted in England.
It shoots missiles from the rear and a rocket from the front grill which folds downwards, just like in the TV show.
(Photo below of Martin’s FAB1 toy)
6. Okozeruge from BAROM 1, a Tokusatsu TV show in Japan 1973.
This soft vinyl doll is made by Bandai and is very rare. It was not sold or marketed outside of Japan.
Marketed for children, I can imagine this sitting in toy shops of that era, alongside other monsters which children must have delighted in. In the very first episode of BAROM 1, the main villain burns a woman to death with his supernatural powers.
Family entertainment Japanese-style at its finest!
(Photo below of Martin’s Okozeruge sofubi)
You have parties, make themed art, toys and even candy… so why do you love Halloween so much man?
Because it inspires me to get creative and make all kinds of things! For me, it’s a very magical time.
I’m so pleased it’s the one festival which religion has not stolen and corrupted!
(Photos below of some Halloween themed items made by Martin)
How’s it feel knowing the ever lovely Mab Graves is not only a huge fan of your work, but a client / customer as well?
Mind-blowing! She is the best!
Mab is someone I have so much admiration for, artistically and as a person. It’s something I would never have expected. It was such an honour and a most humbling experience for me.
If people wanted to collaborate, work with you or just buy some art – how should they get in touch?
They can check out any of the following:
*I do need to add that I’m not able to take commission work. Sorry!
Nothing planned, but I like the idea of collaborations.
My first collab was with the very talented Jess McCaughey of Teddy Bears Wednesday. We worked together on a show which launched in 2012 at Outré Gallery in Melbourne, and it was a huge success on many levels for both of us.
I would love to collaborate with a sofubi toy maker and have my own vinyl toy some day!
Any major projects you want to hype?
Not at the moment, but stay tuned via my social media!