Sarah J Harper is a multidisciplinary artist, she studied mosaic, ceramics and other arts at college. She produces unique artwork under the name Harper Bizarre Art, often quirky and sometimes controversial. Her work has been featured in exhibitions and books internationally.
What’s a gal to do when a pandemic closes your ceramics studio and you can’t do your usual pottery work? Well, my creative impulses didn’t stop and so I got artistic with paints instead. I did some short courses in watercolours and the invention of my ‘Sweary Landscape’ series was born. It started as a card for a friend who was moving home, and well, it has developed into quite a beast.
There is something very therapeutic, when you’re in lockdown and your life is restricted, to using profanity as an expression of your frustration. ‘Fuck It’ became a firm favourite of mine. I’d paint a landscape, usually something tranquil and a haven of natural wildlife, and the final stage would be to plant a flag on it that contained some ‘naughty’ wording.
My paintings then moved onto acrylics and oils, and I began working on pieces inspired by works by the artistic top ranking, a series I have titled ‘Sweary Landscape Classics’. My first was a re-worked version of JMW Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ which I fondly renamed ‘The Fuck It Temeraire’. When I stumbled across Turner’s original work in the National Gallery last summer my only regret was that I didn’t have my work with me for the ultimate selfie opportunity. My original work on canvas has become an A4 size, numbered and signed, limited edition art print. The same fate has happened with my ‘Going Up Fookin Garrowby Hill’ inspired by one of David Hockney’s paintings. There are others in progress too that will hopefully see the light of day soon.
I’ve also started painting some ‘Sweary Birds’, which I hope to share with you all soon too. I’ve even made a few ceramics with this idea too, using the ‘potter’s tissue’ method on white earthenware, and I’ll be making more this year once the lockdown is over and I can get back to the studio.
What started as a way to continue my artistic endeavours, has become a part of my legacy. Some of the original paintings are now adorning the walls of likeminded potty-mouthed people, and some have made it to become limited edition art prints. I’ve created some commissioned pieces too, not everyone wants ‘sweary’ sometimes people just want a word or message that is personal to them.
My profanity knows no bounds, my ceramic Xmas decorations were very popular and I’ve just added some Sweary ceramic badges to my shop too.
You can find some of my Sweary Landscape work and lots of other things in my online shop at www.etsy.com/shop/HarperBizarreArt and if you mention it at the time of your order I’ll sign a personalised message on the reverse of your order too.
If you want a commission, please do contact me directly, my last one was a sweary Angel Of the North which was a joy to paint. It’s good to spread a bit of sweary joy!
Ding dong, merrily, I wish I was high! But I’m not, unless it’s from the fumes of glue from being a maker.
It’s that festive time of year and for artistic types like me it’s a very important part of our calendar. Not only does art make a great gift, but the desire for more handmade and less mass-manufactured Xmas decorations is increasing.
I started making Xmas decorations as a child, I hold a memory of sitting round the table with my younger brother, making mobiles with paper straw stars to hang in our house. It was the 1970’s and festive decorations were not as themed or colour coordinated as some insist on now. Our home-made paper straw mobiles hung alongside masses of plastic tinsel and lametta, they were like a refreshing break from the optical rape of sparkles.
As an adult I hold my hand up to being one of the colour coordinated festive decorators, my artificial tree is purple, and the items that adorn it are primarily silver, white or black. In saying that, my tree has lots of my handmade decorations on it each year, and includes lots of skulls, Star Wars tributes, planets and Jack Skellington’s amongst the baubles. I now embrace the sparkles, the glitz and the campness of it all. But the personal touch is a necessity as far as I’m concerned.
A few years ago I took to enhancing wooden decorations, they have all manner of themes: animals, skulls, fantasy, winter, and are mostly a bit ‘alternative’ to the traditional works you find in the high street stores. I’ve realised this week just how many of them I have accrued, so I’m offering amazing deals on ‘lucky dips’ in my online shop. If you buy 20 then it works out to just £1.10 per item, buy 10 and it’s just £1.40 each, and buy 6 for just £1.66 each, and those prices include free UK postage too!
I’ve also got some great deals on my ceramic decorations too, including lots of Sweary and naughty ones, and to fulfil the nice part of this season, there’s some porcelain ones too on offer. Every item is handmade and decorated by me, so each is unique.
My latest ceramic decorations will be coming this week, including some with boobies! There’s only a few left of the Sweary ones I finished last week, you can find what’s available in my shop. I’ve created a section there called ‘Xmas Decorations’ just to make everyone’s lives that little bit easier. There’s lots to see in the other listings in my online shop too that make great unique gifts, including one-off ceramics, money art, and paintings. You can also find great deals on my signed limited edition art prints too. Don’t forget that all prices include free UK postage too, and if you’ve been good I’ll even throw in a free gift!
I can’t provide you with your Xmas dinner and nibbles, but I’m here for your other unique seasonal requirements.
Now, I’m sure that if you have any inkling of who I am you’ll know that I’m not the religious type, I’m not one for celebrating religious holidays, but December to me is a good excuse to hanker down at home (not that we’ve needed an excuse to do that in 2020!) and get the sparkly decorations out of their warmer weather hibernation. I love the idea of an alternative Xmas, I don’t want the option of scoffing to much food, watching crappy telly, and giving gifts to my favourite people, to lay in the domain of religion. So in my house, it very much doesn’t, though I do like to do a platter of Baby Cheeses!
As a creative type it’s probably my best time for sales too and I love being a stall holder at markets at this time of year, there’s a real buzz around them, the anticipation of choosing the perfect gift for someone you love. This COVID-19 pandemic has hit makers hard this year, and it’s going to be especially tough for some of us who rely on festive sales. I know I’ve not stopped making things, and I’m sure that’s the case for most makers.
Handmade Xmas Decorations
I’ve got lots of handmade xmas decorations all ready to find new homes now, and I’ve got lots of new naughty ceramic ones in various stages of the making process too. Rather than adding them onto my online Etsy shop and having to increase prices to counteract the fees there, I’ve decided to sell the ones that are available now via my Facebook page, so they are at stupidly low prices. They’re all included in a ‘Xmas 2020’ photo album that is pinned to the top of that page, so it’s very easy to find, just click here. Prices are starting from just £1 and there’s crazy deals on bulk buys of designs too.
You can contact me directly if you want to give any of them a home, either to brighten up your own home with the nice ones, make an alternative Xmas statement with the naughty ones, or give them as gifts.
If you’re on the hunt for gifts, I’ve got lots of my work in my Etsy shop, just click here and go have a browse through my paintings, prints, ceramics, mosaics and craftwork, prices start there from just £10 including free UK postage!
Commission Your Own Gifts
If you would like a commission of a Sweary Landscape (it doesn’t have to be Sweary) then please contact me directly to guarantee a truly unique and bespoke gift.
I’d love to do a happy dance!
I’m relying on my lovely supporters to consider buying handmade things for this festive season, to shop local and shop small businesses, rather than lining the already bulging pockets of the big corporates. By buying direct from an artist or crafter you are getting something unique, something made with a passion, and you’ll be encouraging a whole raft of people to do happy dances.
Art is both a tool and a platform, it allows artists, and also those that view and participate with the art, to examine what it means to be human, to be able to voice and express, and to bring people and ideas together. For those that make it, it can be a lifeline, an expression of who they are and who the buyer or recipient of the artwork is too.
The challenges of our so-called ‘new normal’ life in and post-global pandemic, we are seeing more clearly what needs to change in our pre-COVID-19 society. What we are experiencing is proving difficult for individuals and groups on many levels. The systemic racism in positions of power has become a huge focus and has fuelled expression in many forms, from protests in the streets and online, and of course through art. During times of crisis, what we need is the humanity, the expression, and the community that the arts world creates.
We are seeing a growing mental health crisis as a response to COVID-19. The isolation, life changes in terms of job and housing losses, financial worries, physical health concerns, and the tragedies of short and long-term ill health and deaths, that the pandemic has left us with is taking its toll. There is a marked increase in suicides in the UK. The importance of good mental and physical health has never been so stark in my lifetime.
Art as a form of therapy may be of help to some. The time is now to value the arts. Art is not an exclusive domain to those that have studied it, or for the wealthy classes, it is not something that should be viewed in terms of ‘high art’, we no longer live in a world where only the privileged can take part in it. Art can be big or small, it can be pavement chalk art or street community murals, art makes a difference in how we live our lives. There is no age limit, there is no level of education required, there is no right or wrong. If you feel the need to express yourself, through pictures, or words, or dance, or any other arts medium, then do it. No one can tell you that what you are doing is bad or wrong, your art is personal to you, you know why you are doing it, and even if it’s just doodling on a piece of scrap paper, it is valid, and you may even surprise yourself with your efforts.
The arts create a sense of wellness in our lives by helping us process our lives as individuals and it allows us to come together collectively. It can allow us to communicate, it generates positivity, appreciation and hope during. In times of social injustice and unrest, art amplifies important voices and messages. Art matters.
In this age where the arts is easily accessible online, we can engage with it on many levels. Many museums and galleries have moved their exhibitions online, you can view the work of established artists and also less established artists, from the comfort of your own home. Being in lockdown is a great time to feed your mind with connecting to the arts online.
Art is good for our health, while you are enjoying viewing and engaging with different perspectives from your home, revel in the knowledge that you are being healthy! Art is a proven tool for reducing stress and is used for mental well-being. Creating art has long-term benefits too, it boosts our brain function as well as being a positive contributor to our mental and emotional health. It can help us to process our world, trauma, it can be a way to express difficult feelings and to work through experiences. Creating art with others can be a bonding experience, arts and crafts activities need not just be for the kids!
We need the arts in difficult times. It gives us immeasurable personal and social benefits. We rely on the arts to help us through difficult times.
It has been a tough time for many artists this year financially, many of our outlets for selling work have not been available, so if you can, please do support artists when considering buying gifts and seasonal decorations.
Harper Bizarre Art stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and all marginalised communities that have for too long faced injustice and inequity.
That it has taken the tragic killing in the USA by the police of George Floyd and countless others before him, as well as many other killings in the UK, is a tragedy in itself. Institutionalised racism and racist police is not a new thing, there is a long history behind it. Many individuals and groups have been highlighting this throughout my lifetime and before, but the time is now ripe for a systemic change in how institutions and positions of ‘power’ are run.
The charity Inquest have stated that since 1990, there have been 1,743 people in England and Wales who have died following contact with the police. In the UK and USA, as a proportion of the population, black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody, and force or restraint is more than twice as likely to be involved in their deaths.
Official figures by gov.uk show that police in England and Wales were three times more likely to arrest a black person than a white person and five times more likely to use force in 2018-19.
Social Divides Have Heightened Under Coronavirus
Racism and Coronavirus are both deadly pandemics. Current data has shown black Britons in England and Wales have been nearly twice as likely to die with the disease as white people.
The UK government review into the impact of Coronavirus on ethnic minority communities told a similar tale of social and economic inequalities with poverty, overcrowded housing, and being employed in lower-paid or key worker roles being put forward as factors for this disparity. People from black and ethnic minority groups have also been hit hard financially during the crisis, as research has shown they are more likely to be working in shut-down sectors or precarious jobs.
Britain’s Colonial Past
I stand fully behind the removal of statues and monuments erected in public forums that ‘honour’ the memory of imperialist benefactors such as Cecil Rhodes, these people with blood on their hands should not be held in high regard. These statues and other artworks have no place in our modern society in a park or open public area, where they are quite literally viewed as someone to look up to, but rather should be removed and placed in museums where the role that they played in the slave trade, and the subsequent deaths of many people is acknowledged.
Britain’s colonial past is littered with tragedy and shame, and the education curriculum should not be focussed so much on white Europeans. Knowledge is power and through education of our racist past (and present) lessons can be learned and the history of persecution cannot be allowed to continue.
When Black Lives Matter started in the UK in 2016, it was seen as a predominantly youth-led movement started in protest at police killings of black people in the US. It came to Britain as a coalition of black activists opposing unjust policing and other forms of racism.
The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which led to the deaths of 72 people, many of them black and Asian, amid claims of official neglect, highlighted the distrust that many have in authority. Economic decisions had been at the forefront of planning, rather than humane decisions that protect the health and safety of residents.
The Windrush scandal emerged in 2018, when thousands of people from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and Africa were wrongly told they were in Britain illegally. People lost their homes, their jobs, and were deported from the country they resided in, all leading to a traumatic effect and a high level of mistrust of policy and authority.
This succession of issues affecting black communities has made people more willing to speak out and demonstrate. People have become activists, fighting for their rights to their home, or for compensation for the wrongs that have been done to them. The democratic process is not working for the people, in many respects it works against people. In my opinion the entire political system needs to be changed in the UK, but hey, that’s a story for another blog.
As an artist I think it is important to acknowledge that art can and should, be used for political purposes. The history of protest art is long and varied, and I’m not going to detail it now, but it is a valid form of protest, and in some cases worldwide, is the means of getting messages across to others, when sometimes being vocal about politics is punishable. The history of money art, for example, is peppered with social non-compliance, and has proved to be a tool for spreading messages on a wider scale.
Art has the power to memorialise the human experience and shape culture, but for too long, the art world has offered a predominantly white male perspective and excluded the voices and participation of others.
I recognise that it is not enough to be simply ‘not racist’ but that I must strive to be actively anti-racist. To best serve the community and the legacy of art, I must do more to actively support and represent more diverse and marginalised groups.
My hope is that the rest of the art world will do the same, in their working and personal lives, and that we can all transform the art world. Real significant change takes a commitment and long-term effort.
This was going to be the year that I really put my efforts into getting my artwork out into more places, in January I had decided that I should be attending more local markets with my stall, and that my work should be submitted to more galleries. Then the Coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown happened, and alongside many other artists, key sources of exposure and income were taken away from me. People before profit should be a mantra for us all, and so we all have to adapt to a new way of living and working through this pandemic. In my opinion, it’s a good thing to have to think differently about the way you do things anyway, and shaking things up a bit can provide a number of positives, it stops ideas from becoming stale, it can stop the monotony of tasks, and fresh ideas can develop, it’s like Springtime is blooming for the mind.
Positive Work At Home
On the plus side, it has given me the opportunity to focus more on my admin tasks, not the reason I’m an artist at all! I’ve updated my online Etsy shop, and I’m finally looking at my business plan, I’m tailoring a marketing strategy, and I’m taking part in virtual business courses run by South East Enterprise, they offer free advice and courses to local businesses and are proving to be an invaluable source of information for me.
Balancing Family Life
My artwork has had to adapt to the lockdown situation too. Not least because I am home schooling my son who is in year four, and learning and entertaining time is often all consuming so my creative time has had to take a back seat. I’m making sure that we have some creative time together as much as possible, and his love of creating artwork has increased dramatically, alongside his love for watching Bob Ross shows!
Artistic Change Of Direction
For the past few years my work has focussed heavily on ceramics, much of that is completed in studio time at college, but when the adult education centre closed in March for lockdown, that was pretty much the end of that. I’d love to own a kiln at home, but that is not within my budget, so my kiln work is done at college, and besides I would miss the fantastic mentoring that I have from my ceramics tutor, Anja Lubach. So in the absence of being a potter, my artistic endeavours have changed in lockdown, I have been painting more. In fact, I’ve created a whole range of work under the title ‘Sweary Landscapes’.
A whole new world has opened up to me in these strange times of COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve created the world of ‘Sweary Landscapes’. These are made up of landscape paintings, so far I’ve used watercolours and oils, with imagined scenery that has included mountains, beaches, and lavender fields, I then add a profanity in pen to the painting. Landscapes have never been my thing previously, but I’m finding the process really enjoyable, maybe in the whole lockdown scenario my brain is able to escape to these idyllic places when my body is unable to do so. I’m definitely seeing them as a product of this Coronavirus pandemic and I’m claiming them as a therapeutic tool to get me through these times of confinement. I’ve added some of the original artworks, and also some prints to my Etsy shop if you’d like to see them, or check the gallery section of my website or my social media posts.
With no actual markets taking place to attend in person, I’ve recently taken part in the Makers Market From Home on Instagram, it’s a great initiative by artist Andy Greenacre, where makers each set up a stall in their own homes and then photograph and video them to post for others to see. You can view posts by searching on Instagram for the hashtag #makersmarketfromhome Over one hundred makers took part in the last market, and with another one planned for Saturday 23rd May, it’s definitely something to look out for. I’ll be taking part again, with some special offers throughout the day too, so I hope you can follow my posts then.
Adapting To An Uncertain Future
Now that art fairs, exhibitions and workshops are indefinitely put on hold, the way artists conduct their business is having to change. I will continue to adapt, not only the way I promote and offer my work, but my work itself. The approach to my artwork has changed and as the professional landscape shifts around us all, being innovative is more important than ever. Us creative types need to create, it’s a necessary part of maintaining good mental health, so create we will, even if our only sources of promotion are online.
Changing the way I run my art business
Here are just a few ways that I’m changing the way I work, and they may be helpful to you too:
1. Strengthening my online presence. I’m doing this in a number of ways including:
Doing an audit of my social media pages (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), making sure that everything is up to date and that all information is necessary.
Updating the information provided on my website, including creating links to other websites that are relevant.
Creating blog posts, admittedly this is a work in progress, this being my second ever blog, but the intention is there to do more.
2. Creating new artwork, and learning new skills. I’m enrolled on a couple of virtual watercolour courses to hone my skills with the LSEC.
3. Updating my online shop on Etsy, and ensuring that the prices I list are the lowest I can offer. I’ve also included free postage to UK addresses now.
4. Sorting out my workshop space. Again, this is very much a work in progress, I’ve given myself a deadline of completing it by the end of this month so my family can have the dining table back!
5. Sorting out the paperwork and admin, it’s not pretty but it is necessary.
6. Planning ahead – I started a wall planner at the beginning of the year, and it’s looking pretty bare for the upcoming months, but it exists and will prove to be a positive visual stimulant once things pick up and markets and galleries are open again, and in the meantime I can fill it with virtual markets and things to do on a daily basis. Today I am finishing this blog!
7. Video tutorials – I created my first one a few weeks ago and it’s up on YouTube, a real time video of creating a quick and easy watercolour landscape which was then turned into a Sweary Landscape (later titled ‘Fuck It 6‘). The video is a bit dull and I’ve learnt that I should have talked through the process, but hey, it can only improve, and hopefully it will inspire someone to pick up a paintbrush or pen.
8. Using my time to mentor my son in art, this needs no further explanation other than to say that it is a perfect thing to do! He even asked to do his own art video tutorials that are included on my YouTube channel!
9. Creating artwork to help others – I’ve done a few pieces that are to be included in projects to help others. I created a watercolour landscape titled ‘Sending Love‘ which will be printed and included in the ‘Busy Bags For The Isolated In Greenwich‘ project for the Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice organised by Crafta, check out their Facebook page. I’m also working on a collaboration for Background Bob’s project in which lots of artists collaborate to design works that will be displayed in a hospital and then auctioned off to raise funds for them. Please do check the project out if you have a minute or two.
10. Art swaps – This is a great time to do art swaps with other artists, we’re all looking at our walls and wouldn’t it be good to change them up for a few new works to look at?
We may be in the midst of a pandemic, and our lives may have altered dramatically as a result of the lockdown situation, but I’ve yet to find time to be bored at home. Creating art or making things is a great way to pass the time, and focusing on something to take your mind off all the external pressures and worries and tragedy, is good for your mental well-being. Give it a go, you may surprise yourself at where your imagination takes you. Remember, there is no such thing as bad art, it’s all subjective.
I’ve been working as an artist for a few years now and I take great pride in the fact that everything I design and create is unique and it is made from a mental place of caring about what I do. What is handmade art? My work is a reflection of my imagination, my moods, my individuality, and my skills.
Whilst I may have had a scandalous moment or two in my life, my scandals are nothing in comparison to those of big companies producing mass-manufactured items, whether from an environmental or human rights position.
Buying from individuals is a more sustainable way to shop, and you know where your pennies are going. It’s less likely for your purchase to become another part of landfill in a ‘throwaway society’ as you will value the fact that it has been hand crafted.
As human beings shouldn’t we celebrate our uniqueness? We are all individuals, each of us should revel in the joy that our homes, or gifts to loved ones, can reflect that.
By buying a unique piece of art from me, or a handmade ceramic for your home, you are asserting that you want to support a working artist or crafter, that buying from a small business is a concern to you as you don’t want to see the destruction of local markets or shops in your area. Purchasing online from an artist gives them the opportunity to continue their work, and often their work is paramount to their mental stability, it’s hard for a creative to not be able to create.
My work is not expensive, and the time it takes for me to make something is often undervalued considerably, yet I am still sometimes shocked that often for a cost difference of a few pounds, someone would rather purchase an item intended for decorative purposes or functionality that thousands or millions of other people will also have in their homes.
Buying from a small artisan is a clear indication that you want to support that person’s livelihood, that you want to contribute to a local economy, and that you want to see the skills used in the make to thrive.
Knowledge is power, and knowing where your money is going is gratifying. Cash is King, and knowing that you can be an influencer of wealth distribution is a great power indeed. You could give your money to a big company, or you can choose to give it to someone that will be so very grateful that you are supporting them and giving their creative efforts a good home. Hell, I’ve even been known to do a happy dance or two!