20 Minutes with Rick Harney

Monday 9 July 2018

When did you start to carve?

1985. After making fibreglass sculptures for 10 years, my body rebelled. After a brief hospitalisation, I realised I needed a new medium. I had a couple of old carpenters' chisels that I reground and started hacking away at some old pine boards. I didn't buy my first gouge until a year or so later.

What made you continue carving?

I loved the direct approach. I had always worked in clay, made moulds and cast work from the time I began as a sculptor. I had tired of the process, and was energized by the risk of a one-chance medium.

What inspires you when you carve?

Renaissance sculpture, impressionist painting, Ghiberti's relief sculptures, Monet's haystacks, Van Gogh's portraits. All inspire and humble.

What are you currently working on?

A small Einstein relief portrait. I've revisited the landscape of his face, and Abraham Lincoln's on a number of occasions. Their features fascinate me as much as their personalities.

Which tool wouldn't you be without and why?

A 1/8in bent gouge from the Fred Cogelow set of skew gouges made by Henry Taylor. I'm not even sure they make one as small as the one that came out 20 years ago, but that one is irreplaceable.

Which is your preferred style of carving and why?

The freestanding relief. It allows me to integrate drawing, sculpture, and painting in one package. I love the 3-D aspect the works take on, especially after paint has been applied to enhance the form.

What do you think has been your biggest carving achievement?

Developing a style all my own. My goal was to make work that looked like nobody else's.

Whose work do you most admire?

Whew… already mentioned a few but have a long list of heroes. Augustus St. Gaudens, who created an incredible number of dazzling relief portraits, may have had the greatest impact on my approach to making sculpture. I also greatly admire Fred Cogelow, both for his virtuosity and the humour in his work.

If you weren't a carver what would you be?

I'd be slingin' paint on canvas, for sure. I love the stuff.

Describe the view from your workbench and the area you live.

The photo of me was taken in my basement. I have a studio in an old school building, with 12ft high ceilings and a wall of windows that flood the place with natural light. I live in (no kidding) Normal, Illinois, a mid-sized, Midwestern town surrounded by cornfields. The terrain is as flat as a pane of glass.

Who would you most like to carve for?

The honest answer to this is, myself. We've been raising an autistic son for the last 24 years. Nothing recharges my batteries and gives me the strength to keep moving forward like a day in the studio.

Are you critical of your own work?

Absolutely. After 35 years of making stuff, I honestly feel I've made only a handful of really good, museum quality carvings. The rest of 'em I can hardly stand to look at without wanting to rework them.