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Heidi Harrington: Bringing Art to Life in More Ways Than One

Heidi Harrington likes a proper cup of tea. She is quite particular about this, the water must be boiled, the tea must be black, and there must be milk which cannot be added until after the tea is fully brewed. We sit together over one cup of very proper English tea, and one cup of knock off herbal substitute while she weaves the story of her life as artist, rock and roll drummer, and mother of two.

In 1988, Harrington was newly graduated from Northumbria University in England and headed to Spain where she had a scholarship from the Royal Academy to copy Velasquez paintings at The Prado in Madrid. She spent three months in Madrid before returning home to England. Once there she used her Enterprise Allowance (a standard in England for those wishing to start their own businesses) to pursue her art career and to take up drumming in the Newcastle rock and roll scene.

Heidi became drummer for the cow punk band The Anthill Runaways, playing with them for about two years. Just when it looked like Go! Discs Records was going to sign the group, they instead singled out lead singer Briana Corrigan who went off to Milan to record with the group The Beautiful South. After that, the band fizzled out but Harrington’s art career was just getting going.

She relocated to London to continue painting. There she took up space at Bussey Studio, a well-known artist haunt in the Peckham section of London. She began taking portrait commissions. The work was good, relatively steady, but before long Heidi realized that she wasn’t fulfilled. Often she was commissioned to paint portraits of families which involved painting children. To paint them, it was necessary to take a photograph rather than expect them to sit still for the long hours involved in painting a portrait. She longed to paint from life, not from a representation of life.

It was this desire to paint life from life that led to her most ambitious exhibition. “Stand Up Sitting” was a bold undertaking. Harrington would round up some of Great Britain’s most well-known and beloved comedians and have them sit for her. Her efforts were a great success, she painted luminaries like Monty Python’s Terry Jones (who posed sitting nude at a piano) and Mark Gatiss who is presently known for his role as Mycroft on the hit show “Sherlock” as well as being co-writer. Harrington painted Hattie Hayridge, an English comedienne best known for her role in the BBC comedy “Red Dwarf” and she painted renowned comedienne Helen Atkinson Wood known for her role as Mrs. Miggins alongside Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder, among others. The series was a huge success and one of the portraits of Scottish Comedian Ronnie Corbett hung in the Scottish National Gallery during their 2014 exhibition titled “Tickling Jock” a retrospective of comedy greats.

Heidi eventually pulled up stakes and moved to the US to be with her American husband. She continued to paint in New York City where she was in the process of launching a second comedian series with American subjects. She was in the midst of discussions with Jackie Mason’s team when her life changed forever. Harrington became pregnant with her first child.

She chose to put her career on hold for a while in order to raise her son and her daughter born a few years later. She moved with her family to suburban Connecticut where she remains today. These days, she teaches painting privately and at a small art school in Fairfield County. She has also begun taking on portrait commissions once again. Now that her children are older, she feels it is nearing time to revisit her old ways. She tells me she is gearing up for something big. Whether it is to finish where she left off with her American comedian project, or to move on to something new we will have to wait and see.

For more on Heidi’s artwork, visit her website heidiharrington.com

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