interview / liz rice mccray

Dear reader,
We have been smitten with internationally recognized artist Conor Harrington for years… tracking his artwork across the globe from Dublin, the United States, U.K. to Norway, Spain and back again. When the opportunity was presented to interview him we jumped on it. Harrington is well known for both his street art and his gallery works. His paintings blend classical elements and contemporary art with old and new references, detailing urban influences and underlying commentary not necessarily about the past, but a metaphor for the world today. Harrington has had solo exhibitions at Lazarides Rathbone in London, The Outsiders, Stolen Space Gallery and Kinsey/DesForges in Los Angeles, among many other galleries. Conor Harrington is an Irish born painter who is currently living and working in his East London. Many thanks to Conor Harrington for taking the time to answer our questions. To see more, please visit his website,, or follow him on Instagram, @conorsaysboom.

Perhaps you could describe where you are right now, this way everyone reading along can imagine the setting.
It’s a Saturday so I just got in from running around with my son. He’s nearly three and needs a lot of exercise, so we need to be out and about as much as possible otherwise it’s not pretty! I’m sitting at the table with a stack of admin/emails to get through. I never get round to doing computer stuff during the week as I’m always painting; so I try and sit down to tackle it at the weekends.

Your paintings are captivating, combining elements of new and old, with mysterious revolutionary battles and historical references of duty and honor. Can you tell us a little bit about that dichotomy?
I was doing graffiti as a teenager and was fully emerged in hip-hop culture. When I went to art college I initially found it hard to grasp contemporary art so I’d look back through art history for some answers. Graffiti and art history seem worlds apart but there are a lot similarities too, a lot of tales of flesh and overblown egos. My paintings aren’t about the past. I use the 18th Century stylings as a visual metaphor for power, excess and greed but at the same time my paintings are very much about the world today.

Your murals are highly complemented by the surface on which you create them, texture always seems to be a component to your pieces, what is the process you use to conceptualize a piece, refine it, “test it,” etcetera?
I always choose as smooth a surface as possible, so I never paint on bricks. I like a skimmed gable end so that the wall is similar to a canvas and I can really move the paint around on it. In terms of conceptualizing a piece, I pick an image that suits the dynamic and context of the wall but generally the subject of my walls reflect what I’ve been working on in the studio.

What mediums do you mainly work with, in studio and outdoors?
In the studio I mainly use oils with a little bit of spray paint but outdoors on a wall I’ve graduated from spray paint to bucket paint. The walls are bigger than they were ten years ago and I like to get loose so spray paint is too confining for me.

How does your mural work inform your studio practice or vice versa?
I like to look at my walls as studies. I also rarely call them murals as that word conjures up a very complete and highly finished piece to me whereas I like mine to be looser and less precious. That way I don’t feel too much pressure when I’m painting. I’ve also never taken on a commissioned mural or a public art project. The scale of the wall and the visibility of it is too much for me so when I paint a wall I like to imagine it being painted over at some stage afterwards. I’ve gotten looser on my walls and that’s definitely helped me to loosen up in the studio too.

Your film “Old Norse” was your third film with filmmaker Andrew Telling. The film is mesmerizing and very moving. It showcases textures and nature and how your art integrates them, with a soundtrack that wraps it up into a perfect package, will you tell us more about your film projects?
In total I’ve done four films with Andrew, three travel films (Israel/Palestine, Ireland and Norway) and one mini project with actors. I love how he works and we’re good friends so we naturally work well together. In general, I don’t like being filmed, I find it very distracting knowing the camera is on me but Andrew is very respectful and he lets me do my thing while he films me through a fence in the distance. We did three of those together and a film where we got some of the actors that I work with. That was a completely different way of working as it incorporated a lot of costumes, props and acting and I’ve been meaning to revisit it ever since.

Is there an element of self-portraiture in your work?
I hope not, as I tend to paint the negative aspects of masculinity – ego, greed and bravado. There’s an old cliché that suggests every painting is a self-portrait but I feel like my paintings portray the opposite of me.

What kind of art do you like? Do you collect any art in particular?
I don’t buy art, I have a handful of pieces I’ve swapped with friends but in general I don’t own much. I like a lot of painting, a lot of art not associated with the street art scene as well as some bashy graffiti. Time spent looking at art is as important as time spent making it.

Where can people view more of your art?
In various cities around the world but I’m sure most people view my work through their phones.

Very last question. Any last words for our readers, shout-outs, declaration of love or hate.
Be nice to people!

I like that answer. Thank you so much Conor for a lovely interview.