There is no artist who captures the essence of Chinoiserie more exquisitely than Harrison Howard. What is that essence? Whimsical, joyful, imaginative, playful, exotic, fanciful, and beautiful. Mr. Howard's murals and watercolors have graced stunning homes across the country including the Royal Saudi Embassy residence, the Vanderbilts, the DuPonts, and the Goodyears. He has worked with the interior design firms of McMillen, Inc., Irvine & Fleming, and Parish-Hadley. Feast your eyes on some of his works in the series Chinoiseries and then read my interview with him. His entire portfolio may be viewed on his website here. Original watercolors as well as giclees which are the highest quality limited edition prints of his work are available for purchase. For a look at his Flower People collection, read this previous post of mine on Style Redux.
Would you mind sending me a few thoughts on 1) how and when you became interested in Chinoiserie, 2) to what you attribute its universal appeal, 3) and your sources of inspiration?
1) I first became interested in chinoiserie when I was about eleven or twelve years old. My father, who was a free lance artist, had a book of designs by Jean Pillement. I had read fairy tales all through my childhood, and Pillement’s designs seemed a great deal like fairy tale illustrations to me. I started looking at things around our house that had some chinoiserie aspect to them and found that there were quite a few. My parents loved antiques, but until then I had never paid much attention to the things in our house.
2) I am not sure that chinoiserie yet has a universal appeal, but it is amazing to me the extent to which chinoiserie as a style has pervaded the design of furniture, fabrics, china, architecture etc., although many people outside the design and art world remain largely unfamiliar with the term and unaware of the extent to which chinoiserie motifs permeate the design of western goods in our own time. I prefer things that way, because I think that trends in design that become over exposed often lead to misuse that contaminates the best qualities that made that genre appealing in the first place. Some of the items I have seen over the years that emulated Diego Giacometti’s plaster and bronze creations stand as a good example for me of that kind of situation.
3) My sources of inspiration for the chinoiserie images that I am now working on stem from literally everything around me. I am inspired by literature, fashion, children’s stories, gardens, architecture, furniture, unusual objects, poems, art movements and many individual artists and illustrators, just about anything in short. When I first started painting chinoiserie subjects I stuck to the usual conventions largely established in the 18th century in Europe, and I thought purely in terms of light hearted, highly decorative, entertaining schemes. It gradually occurred to me that chinoiserie could be used like any other genre to explore an endless number of ideas and themes, and that the imaginary aspects of chinoiserie as a style defy limitations. It still surprises me that much of the design world has stuck rigidly to using chinoiserie motifs in the context in which they were first conceived. While chinoiserie may seem a very unlikely vehicle, I see it as a genre that has the potential to express everything from absurdities and light humor to almost any aspect of society or individual human behavior. There is a lot of room left for thought provoking work within the genre. Its highly decorative and imaginative possibilities offer innumerable opportunities for inventive color combinations, patterns, and compositions. I think chinoiserie will undoubtedly remain a fairly narrow genre, but for my particular set of interests and objectives, it is an entire realm waiting to be explored.