Martin Harris and His Kaiju Friends October 27 2021

Melbourne-based artist Martin Harris creates candy-drenched children’s fantasylands in the most delicate watercolours of amazing and enchanting detail. Of his art Martin says, “My pictures attempt to lift the veil as it were so that others may glimpse this ‘other world’. My fascination and love of children’s picture books, comics, toys, 1960s television (Thunderbirds, Dr Who, and Pinky & Perky to name but a few) combined with my childhood memories and my love of animals are the basis and inspiration for my art."

Interview by Jessica Steger. Photos supplied by Martin Harris.

We are super excited to have you exhibit with us again this October at Outré Gallery Fitzroy! What miniature, nostalgic, fantasylands and characters can fans expect to see this time around?

Kaiju… and lots of it! (The hint is in the show’s title ;-)). For anyone who is not familiar with Kaiju, it is a Japanese term which basically translates as 'monster' or 'strange beast'. Expect to see all various types of kaiju, mainly drawn from Japanese pop culture, from films such as Godzilla and television shows like Ultra Q and Ultraman. But more specifically, images of kaiju as represented in their toy form. This toy form is called 'sofubi', which means soft vinyl (toy). During the showa period of the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds if not thousands of sofubi toys were produced in Japan, often referred to as 'The Monster Boom'. I have focused on toys which appeal to me and painted them in my style, throwing some kawaii animals in to the mix.

I imagine you'd have a wonderful collection of art, books, toys and curiosities that you've collected over the years. Tell us about some of your favourites that perhaps inspired the theme for this show!

There's so many that it's difficult to pin-point to any particular, but the Kaiju Racers made by the company TOY GRAPH are a definite favourite of mine. You will spot mostly nods to 'old skool' characterisations. Some of the others which are my favourites are the toy wind-up tricycles produced by M1-Ichigo, and sofubi produced by Marusan, Butanohana and Bullmark.

Can you step us through your preliminary creative process? How do you approach starting a large body of work like this?

I usually begin by rapidly jotting down ideas, titles, and scribbling tiny compositions on scraps of paper, much like compiling a grocery shopping list. Then I begin with the one which I am excited to get started from first draft through to finished form. This is can be a vastly time consuming process. Sometimes one piece will go through several drafts before I am finally satisfied.

Tell us a little about your delicate watercolour and gouache painting technique.  What are your favourite tools and materials you like to work with?

As a person with zero professional training, I often wonder if I am using these mediums in the way in which they are intended. So basically, I select, mix and apply the mediums until I achieve a desired effect, sometimes applying multiple layers. Miniature brushes are my most used tools. A couple of years back, Mab Graves and Trekkel Art Supplies issued a mini brush set with 12cm handles in assorted colours. Those are my definite favourites!

Do you have any daily rituals to help keep the creative juices flowing? Like keeping a visual journal of sketches and ideas?

Strangely enough, no. I know most artists do keep journals or visual diaries, so I sort of feel like it is something I should do. Random browsing through vintage books, comics and magazines of varying genres will usually provide me with some sort of inspiration.

You've created so many wonderful characters over the years. Would you ever consider illustrating for a children's book? Or creating toys of your own?

In the past the idea of illustrating a children's book greatly appealed to me, but as time passed I realised that it is quite intensive work which requires a high level of consistency, which is something I feel I would not have the skills to accomplish. Also, I think I would get bored quickly. I like to work on individual, separate artworks, even if there is a theme running through them. I definitely would like to produce a toy based on something I have illustrated or painted. In fact, you will hopefully get a glimpse of this at the show, depending on time and logistics. Stay tuned!

Did you always want to be an artist from a young age? If not, what other career paths did you imagine for yourself?

I guess I didn’t give much thought as what career path I wished to pursue. I kind of just drifted in to the creative path because that's all I ever did since as far back as I can recall. Just being creative, whether building with Lego, making animation on Super-8 film or drawing comic strips. All purely to entertain myself.

What do you like most like about being an artist?

Being able to manifest a concept or an idea, a thought-form, and turn it in to a physical (hard copy) image which others can view. Bringing something from the ether to the often troubled physical world, which I do believe can induce positive and healing energy/wavelengths. This is what I believe. To bring delight or joy to others is the most rewarding of experiences.

For any budding artists out there, what is the best piece of artistic advice you've been given? Or do you have any words of wisdom of your own to share?

I’m probably the worst person to ask for advice! Haha. However, I’ll have a go...

  1. Do what you love doing.
  2. Don’t follow trends.
  3. Be true to your own style and/or subject.

These are my thoughts, and I’ve probably read them somewhere along these lines too, because basically they are the eternal truths.

For those fans who also share your love of nostalgic Japanese Kaiju characters, what would be your top 5 must see favourite Japanese monster movies?

It’s difficult to select from all of the Godzilla showa period films, so I’m going to list a couple of favourites that don’t get as much attention, but which are very entertaining and interesting films (in no particular order):

  1. The Daimajin Trilogy
  2. Matango
  3. Little Prince and The Eight-headed Dragon (English title, 1963). A full length animated feature film.

If I may, I would also like to share my favourite Japanese produced television shows:

  1. The Amazing Three. (1965-66) In Japan, this was called 'Wonder 3'. It was an anime produced by Tezuka and is without exception my most favourite of all time.
  2. Ultra Q. Produced in 1966 by Eiji Tsuburaya, the creator of Ultraman.
  3. Ultraman, the original TV series. (1966)

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Martin! We can't wait to see your Kaiju world.