A vivid depiction of harsh human conditions with life's brighter shades.
The beauty of the human body is immeasurable. From adapting to illness and careless behavior to the countless changes associated with growth, one would be remiss not to appreciate the tribulations the body undergoes to ensure our well-being. However, there are moments where we lack confidence and comfort within our own shells for they sometimes resemble circumstances outside of our control. Whether it because of a medical condition, an unfortunate incident, or a debilitating disease, the body transforms with said events and reflect a version of ourselves that we may not be truly happy with. In darkness there is light and artist Caroline Harrison spotlights the human condition through a different lens, one that is much more vibrant.
Our second Artist Profile entry showcases the work of the talented Caroline Harrison, an artist who adds life to a suffering. By utilizing a vivid array of colors, Harrison creates a sharp contrast between the atmosphere and subject matter at hand, bridging beautiful scenery with the horrors of self-consciousness. The New York-based artist is among those challenging the pre-conceived norms of dark art through radiant palettes that shine a light on politics of the body, making it all more accessible and engaging for those interested in analytical viewership. Musically, Harrison's works have fronted projects from the likes of PYRRHON, KEN MODE, INTER ARMA, and PIG DESTROYER among others as their unique qualities continue to catch the eyes of many. They continue to evolve and reflect the world around her, and by the looks of our contemporary state of being, she'll have subject matter to spare for months to come.
We revisit a conversation we had with Harrison on October 24, 2018 in retrospect almost two years later as the artist reflects on her growth since then:
Caroline Harrison, what drew you to art? Why not engineering, politics, or any other career field?
Harrison (2018): I know it sounds a little cliche, but there was never an option not to. When I was in high school and college, I had a lot of academic interests but always kept coming back to art. I feel like with art, you get the opportunity to do a little bit of other stuff as well. Art can be very political, literary, historical, and really about anything you’re interested in. In addition to just being something that I’ve always felt I needed to do, it became something where I explored my other interests as well.
Harrison (2020): Worth also adding here that when I was a kid, I actually really wanted to go into politics for a bit. I was 12 or 13 and decided I really wanted to be a senator because I loved history class and American politics and honestly wanted to work to help change the world. And then I think the 2000 election happened and I got pretty disillusioned with how politics worked in this country, and fast forward 20 years and the disillusionment has only gotten worse.
Touching on your point about art being political, many argue against having politics in their art and music. Do you feel as though it’s impossible to separate the two given that art and music are inherently political?
Harrison (2018): That’s a great question. It’s something that gets debated a lot. Anybody who thinks that art and music aren’t political is just being willfully ignorant and not paying attention. So much great art and music has always been political. At this point, you can apply the ‘politics is personal and the personal is political’ saying. Art is most interesting when it is personal, and when the personal is political, it’s really difficult to avoid incorporating it subconsciously.
Harrison (2020): I also think the “leave politics out of art” is basically only ever waved around by people who have a specific kind of politics, and who somehow failed to notice that their favorite band writes political music and always has written political music. I mean, you saw how mad some people got at Black Sabbath for making a Black Lives Matter shirt and War Pigs isn’t exactly subtle stuff. It’s awesome, but it’s not uh, subtle. “Keep the politics out of art” is a bullshit position for anyone to take.
Absolutely. As you mention, some of the greatest works in art and music remain political in some aspects. It may not always be apparent, but the intention is there, as is the case with your work. Audiences can navigate through your work using the #MeatPrisonIndustrialComplex hashtag. Is this your way perhaps of highlighting another major contemporary issue?
Harrison (2018): I’ll be completely honest. The hashtag itself is kind of a joke that started because I thought it was sort of a funny pun. People tend to toss around the word meat prison as sort of a means of talking about the body and issues with physicality. A lot of the stuff that I work with deals with a lot of body horror, physical illness, and stuff like that. For me, it was a joke with friends that weirdly stuck. It’s not something I ever really meant as a statement, but obviously I have a lot of feelings about politics of the body, politics of the prison industrial complex, and things like that.
Harrison (2020): Somehow I’m still using this ridiculous hashtag but I also love a dark joke, so. I should probably consider retiring it, but here we are. Sometimes words are just funny.
It’s definitely an interesting play on words. Where do you draw inspiration from to create such profound pieces that highlight human conditions?
Harrison (2018): All over the place. A lot of stuff comes from the history of medicine, stuff I read, stuff I watch. There’s also a lot of movies and other artists that are doing things I find really interesting. A lot of what I’ve been interested in overall is illness, human resilience and how it plays out metaphorically, the body healing, and internal illnesses such as cancers. I think about how physical trauma is evident but mental trauma might not be. I try to blur the lines between the two. It’s a bit of a convoluted answer, but it’s ever changing for me just because I’m always reading, listening and watching stuff.
Harrison (2020): Honestly at this point, the anxiety and horror side of my work has probably moved a little bit more into the foreground. I mean ultimately, my 2018 answer was just kind of side-stepping the fact that I work a lot of the time to try to make sense of my own feelings of being simultaneously anxious or alienated or horrified or enraptured by whatever’s going on in the world around me. It certainly feels like there’s a lot more bad than good these days, but man, there’s still a lot of really beautiful stuff in this world. I’m trying to keep a little more of that hope in there these days. Doesn’t always go great but I’m trying.
You make a good point. Art is dynamic and always evolving with the world around it. Was there a moment in your artistic career or life that you made this particular artistic direction?
Harrison (2018): I’ve always been moving in this general direction. I like to think that I’m evolving and moving forward. Most people that you would talk to about their work will probably have that opinion about their own stuff. I hope to think that I’m always learning and evolving.
As mentioned before, I’ve always been interested in the history of science and medicine. In that respect, that’s been kind of interesting. As far as visual art that I tended to gravitate towards, I found myself looking at a lot of stuff that was a little bit more difficult to look at but in a way still extremely beautiful. I aim to balance the horrifying and the beautiful within the same piece of work. As far as a specific moment where I felt that coalesced, it’s been more of a gradual realization. I’m interested in seeing how that evolves over time.
Harrison (2020): I feel like I’ve got a voice that is, for better or worse, unlike anyone else’s. I’m interested in seeing where that goes.
As evident in some of your works, there are portraits with decay and physical trauma in front of colorful backgrounds, striking unison between two extremes. That said, I’d argue that you definitely achieve said balance. Your art also had a significant impact on reimagining a project for a larger purpose, specifically that of the Yautja/Enabler split of 2012. One of Enabler’s members at the time was involved in a domestic violence case and Yautja re-released their side of the split as 'Dead Soil' (2017) with your art, live recordings, and donations to non-profit organizations like the Community Advocates and Women's Centers of Milwaukee and Nashville. Tell us a little more and what does it mean to you to be a part of this.
Harrison (2018): They approached the project with a lot of sensitivity, which is extremely heartening to see. It meant a lot to me to be trusted with something that had that sort of gravity to it and working with them was such a wonderful experience. They came to me because they loved what I did. They really trusted me throughout the whole process and never tried to dictate what I was doing. In addition to the trust in my work, there was an added dimension in that they were willing to trust me with something that was so personally meaningful to them, which really did mean a lot. They’re all great dudes and they’re fantastic musicians.
Harrison (2020): This is still one of my favorite projects. For fuck’s sake, everyone wear a mask so I can see Yautja again. They’re one of the best live bands in the whole world, and I’m going to bear-hug every last one of them the next time I see them.
Aside from the Yautja effort, are there any works that you’re incredibly proud to have worked on?
Harrison (2018): A few, definitely. Everything that I’ve been involved with Pyrrhon specifically, which is a unique working relationship. It’s meant a lot to get to grow and evolve alongside those guys. The album cover for their second full-length, ‘The Mother of Virtues’ (2014), is still one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. That specific piece was one of the first things that I did that really helped me find where I was going. We were all really young when that came out, though I like to think we’re all still really young. That piece in particular has been a point of reference for me moving forward. That’s when things started to make sense. There was something about it that felt I was going in the right track.
Harrison (2020): I also got to do a Record Store Day album cover for Kool Keith, which was awesome (it was released on the same label that put out the Yautja record). And it was really cool to get to do a shirt for SunnO))) for a tour. But I also tried to make a little more time for personal work over the past couple years, and I’ve ended up being really fond of some of that work.
Definitely. As noted in our Behind the Cover feature on the latest Pyrrhon record, your art followed course from there on out. Your work was also showcased at the Ithaka Fantastik Art Festival and “From the Depths” Dark Art and Craft showcase at the Ars Memoria Gallery. How does it feel to have you work highlighted among other great talents across the country?
Harrison (2018): Honestly, it’s still pretty hard for me to get my head around it. One of the things that has been great is that everybody who was involved with those projects and shows were people that I really admire. It’s really humbling to be included. Like a lot of people, I have difficulties feeling great about my own creative output because I’m so close to it. Having those people in that certain community around me has truly meant a lot.
Harrison (2020): Every single time someone says “hey do you want to be a part of this show” or “my band would love you to do work for us” to me, I still get insanely excited about it. I’m hyped literally every time.
That’s really great to hear. With the dominance of social media, artists have the opportunity of showcasing your work to the world, allowing one to expand their brand into new territories, like taking on commissions. You’ve done work for some pretty heavy acts, including Pig Destroyer, Inter Arma and KEN Mode. How did this all come about?
Harrison (2018): I’ve been pretty lucky. In all of those cases, it’s been a discussion with the bands themselves. KEN Mode has played New York a bunch and so I would go to their shows. When you go to that many shows, you end up meeting the people in the band. With both KEN Mode and Inter Arma, that was the case. I eventually became friends with the guys from both of those groups. With Pig Destroyer, I didn’t really know them but knew people who knew them. It’s one of those things where the metal world is so small. You’re pretty much a few degrees removed from most people, which is kind of crazy. In all of those cases, the band reached out to me or it came up organically as we spoke.
Harrison (2020): Getting hired by bands is a combination of showing up places like shows and making good work. If you don’t make good work, no one will hire you. But if no one knows who you are, no one will hire you either. You just have to try to make the best work you can, and you have to talk to people, which is really hard sometimes because I can be pretty introverted.
Specifically speaking about the Pig Destroyer design, which is one of my favorite pieces of yours, how did you approach their concepts from your own visual standpoint?
Harrison (2018): It’s an interesting one. I usually don’t get approached with a concept, but sometimes there is and I’ll have a back and forth with some sketches. With Pig Destroyer, they had a new record and press cycle coming up, so Blake Harrison reached out with a specific image that he had seen. He had this illustration that he really loved and wanted a different spin on it using my artistic style. I believe he was on vacation in Belize and saw an ad that was basically a lady getting attacked by an octopus. I presented my own idea and it sort of worked out from there.
Interesting. You’ve even done a fair share of gig posters, including one for YOB! Is there a different creative process you take when doing these in comparison to album covers or merch design?
Harrison (2018): Sometimes, somebody reaches out to you and other times, you happen to know somebody on the tour dates and volunteer a project. For the YOB poster in particular, Pitchfork originally contacted me about that since it was a Pitchfork presented date. With Inter Arma and KEN Mode’s posters, I reached out and offered because Pyrrhon was on the date. One of the things that I do as a side job is the social media marketing for Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. What this means is that I’ll have insight into whether there is a poster for a gig or not. That’s also part of why there are so many silly collage art posters on the website. We’ll sometimes just need something to put up and I’ll slap something together using a bunch of old, public domain images.
Now we know who’s truly behind liking and retweeting our posts. Speaking of bands and music overall, what’s on Caroline’s current rotation?
Harrison (2018): Obviously, KEN Mode's 'Loved'. I’m really excited about getting to see them when they’re in town in a couple of days. Also, that album is just amazing. I’m kind of all over the place with that. Heavy music wise, there’s that. I’ve been listening to the new Emma Ruth Rundle and Marissa Nadler. There’s a rapper named Noname that I’ve been enjoying. The Canadian grind band Wake has been a lot of fun. Also, the Arkansas sludge band Rwake. I’ve been spinning their stuff as well.
Harrison (2020): Recent heavy rotation: Pyrrhon (obviously), White Boy Scream, Snowman, Emma Ruth Rundle (still), Inter Arma, Nick Drake, Neil Young (On the Beach), Chat Pile, Ocrilim (Hrasri), Claire Cronin, True Body, Couch Slut, Fiona Apple, Oranssi Pazuzu, and Mountain Goats. Stuff I just acquired that I still really need to dig into but I’m LOVING so far: Moor Mother, new Hum (though, honestly, I end up just listening to the song Stars five times in a row after I listen to that record), God, Backxwash, USA Nails.
Pretty diverse selection there. Is there any band or individual that you’d love to work with in the future?
Harrison (2018): Because I’ve done so much stuff with metal, I think it would be fun to do some sort of heavy but not explicitly metal stuff. People like Emma Ruth Rundle and Marissa Nadler are also visual artists themselves, so doing work for them would be tricky. But so far I’ve gotten to work with people I’m really excited about, so that’s always kind of a hard question to answer. I only want to work with somebody if it’s something where they would feel my stuff would really represent what they were going for. For me, it’s less about who I would want to work with and more about who is really interested in what I’m doing. It’s a bit of a copout, but yeah.
Harrison (2020): It’s so humbling and rewarding if I really like the band and they approach me about doing work, but honestly, I’m sticking with the original answer. The best clients I’ve had are the ones who have been really excited for me to do what I do. It’s an amazing feeling.
Check out more of Caroline Harrison's work HERE via her official website, where interested bands, brands and more can get in contact for commission requests.