David Harrison: 'I wonder where the ghosts are going to live in the future'. By Martin Coomer.
Fairies, spookiness, sex and nature, sex in nature… David Harrison’s paintings are ripe with references to the natural world. He tells us about his new show ‘Flowers of Evil’ and his lifelong love of Wanstead Park.
Where does the title ‘Flowers of Evil’ come from?
‘It comes from the book of poems by Baudelaire. He talks about the sense of things and I think he’s expressing sexual attraction, the way that, while some things are classed as not good for you, you enjoy them in a secret way. And it’s about the smell of nature and, I think, the smell of awareness. I’ve made a perfume. It’s got stuff from my garden, which I’ve been soaking, and also some essential oils in it. It’s called “Enchanter’s Nightshade”. I wanted that idea of walking into the woods. The first thing you smell is violet leaf, quite sweet, and then it dries down to an earthy scent. At this time of year the earth gives off a sweetness when the leaves rot. I’ve always been obsessed by smells.’
Did you grow up surrounded by nature?
‘I grew up right by Wanstead Flats. When we were kids we used to sneak over at night. It used to be quite spooky. There’s this wonderful ruin and I remember when we were about 13 or something, we got this boat – they just used to be tied up – and rowed out to it across the lake. All these bats exploded from beneath the ruin and flew around us, and then the owls started going: woo woo. It was so exciting but also scary in a proper gothic way. It’s still very magical’...