Harriet McKay - Running Towards Home Catalogue Essay
Written by Bernadette Klavins
During the most isolating conditions of 2020, Harriet McKay experienced a deep longing for community and connection. Once she returned home to South Australia, the making of this exhibition became a remedy. Running Towards Home pays homage to the living and breathing elements of McKay’s life.
Portraits of loved ones are carefully rendered in ink, including her sister, partner, close friends and housemates, and cherished objects are drawn with equally tender care.
As the pen gently rolls across the fabric’s weave, the drawings take on a soft graininess that seems to quietly hum with energetic charge. Like faded photographs or hazy memories, the gently posed figures are unanchored in space. They only share the picture plane with large and flat shapes of felt and calico that block in broad forms of furniture and clothing.
The works evade narrative, as their shifting depths and focused compositions evoke a surreal or dream-like space.
McKay associates a particular ‘weight’ with felt - one that is historical, emotional and physical. Woollen Felt is connected to acts of protection - of swaddling, warming and healing. Here its presence nods to Joseph Beuys use of Felt as a symbol of transformation, and to McKay’s formative and tactile memories at her grandmother’s house.
Using hot water and natural pigments, McKay hand-dyed each of these fabrics, further grounding her practice as a reflection on the everyday experience. Each of these works began with a modest bundle of canvas and a packet of ballpoint pens, and it is the process of time, labour and observation that brings the materials to life.
McKay is drawn to objects that are defined by ritual, human touch and the passing of time. This was the driving force behind the three Plumber’s Hammers, where McKay illustrates a series of hand-crafted hammers purchased from an antique store.
She was captivated by how the maker’s hand had slowly impressed itself upon the tool’s wooden handle, their particular grip and movement memorised upon its surface. For McKay, this daily ritual between person and object transcended into something poetic and powerful.
Self-reflective in nature, Running Towards Home reveals the moments of connection and care that fortify McKay’s everyday life and her practice. Through the essential expression of drawing, the works ask us to reflect on what is most important to us, and what drives us to call a place home.