June 2, 2011

Interview with Don Ed Hardy

Don Ed Hardy

Just as the installation for the site specific Artists Gallery exhibition The Unruly Art of Don Ed Hardy begins for the opening June 9, we caught up with Don and asked him a few questions about his work.

AG:Your newer work features almost abstract gestural and loose brush strokes, reminiscent of traditional Japanese brush painting of calligraphy. There is an interesting play in combining these characters and the more tightly rendered tattoo inspired imagery. Is this a new direction for your work?

DEH: This evolved during the painting of 2000 Dragons, a 4 x 500’ scroll executed in the millennial Dragon Year 2000. It was the first time I was able to really loosen up in my work and paint on a larger scale and was a big breakthrough for me.  Since then many other works have come out, a continuous series I dubbed “Automatics.” Almost all my personal work is totally spontaneous, a counterpoint to the thousands of works developed earlier in my life in various mediums as etchings, tattoos, etc.


Don Ed Hardy, Stop and Go (Wheel of Life),
2010; mixed media; 58 x 41 in.;
photo courtesy Trillium Graphics

Don Ed Hardy, Sacred Tiger Ascending, 1995;
 intaglio etching, edition of 20;
34 3/8 x 27 3/8 in. (paper size), 24 ¾ x 19 5/8 in. (image size);
photo courtesy

Don Ed Hardy, Mi Vida Loca, 2008;
mixed media; 41 x 36 in.;
photo courtesy Trillium Graphics

Don Ed Hardy, Born to Love, 2008;
 mixed media; 41 x 30 in.;
photo courtesy Trillium Graphics

AG: No matter how accepted tattoos may be in our current culture, seeing this imagery on such a traditional form as a porcelain vase creates a really interesting dichotomy between what is seen as high or low brow art. Tattoos may be losing their taboo but do you feel these porcelain pieces are a way of making them carry some of that same rebellion they once had? Do you think that the unruly, or counter culture feeling, is something that is integral to this kind of imagery?

DEH: I never work in a spirit of conscious rebellion or with any agenda other than pursuing something that is interesting and will surprise me in its unexpected potential. The principle of opposites is central to everything, whether in composition, content, mediums, etc. but it’s all essentially the same thing. Categories or interpretive input comes from other people afterward. To me it’s all part of a continuum of the circumstances I happened to be born into and live through.

AG: What is your process for making these porcelain pieces?

DEH: In 2005 I was invited to work with a traditional kiln—Risogama—in Arita, Kyushu, Japan, where porcelain was first developed in that country in 1604. Over a series of trips there over a few years, usually of about ten days in duration, I had access to greenware fired production porcelain that I could glaze. Pieces were chosen at random and painted very quickly with spontaneous choices of subject emerging. It’s an incredibly difficult medium for me and a great honor to work with such a time-honored tradition. Japanese culture has been a huge influence all my life.


Don Ed Hardy, Shards Vase, 2007;
 porcelain with porcelain fragments incorporated,
under and over glaze, created at Risogama, in Arita Japan;
 13 x 11 in. diameter; photo courtesy the artist

Don Ed Hardy, Kingfish Platter, 2007;
 porcelain; 13 in. diameter; photo courtesy the artist

AG: You got your start at SFAI in printmaking. There is an obvious connection between tattooing and etching in both technique and the permanence of their marks. How does painting differ for you? By comparison does it feel more expressive or ephemeral?

DEH: All the mediums are expressive in different ways, primarily at the pace of execution. I’ve always worked quickly, for better or worse. With painting more ground can be covered faster. One of my primary interests or tendencies is the autographic gesture, whether with an etching tool, tattoo machine, or brush. As far as I’m concerned all art is ephemeral; tattoos have the only guaranteed expiration date but let’s not kid ourselves about “eternity”, “art for the ages”, etc. It can all go away at any time.

AG: You have lived and worked all over the world. Has one place influenced your art in particular?

DEH: Japan.

AG: Which artists would you like to have dinner with?

DEH: Speaking historically, Philip Guston, James Ensor, Giorgio Morandi, Franz Kline, deKooning, Morris Graves, Asger Jorn, Goya, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Hokusai, Picasso, Picabia, Durer, and last but not least, Gordon Cook and Joan Brown (again.)

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