A brush with

Marlon James, David Hammons and Hamilton the Musical: artist Hurvin Anderson on his cultural influences

The UK painter tells us about his favourite books, artists and creative experiences

Hurvin Anderson © Sebastian Nevols

Hurvin Anderson © Sebastian Nevols

If you could live with just one work of art, what would it be?

David Hammons’ High Falutin’ (1990) from the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. In truth, any of the basketball sculptures—Hammons so brilliantly strikes a balance between humour and criticism. His work can be outrageous but it seems to speak to the African-American experience so succinctly. It would remind me of the power of economy, and that everyday objects can be made important and precious.

Which cultural experience changed the way you see the world?

I only recently saw Hamilton in London. Like many people, I didn’t know the story but the rapping made the storytelling so playful and different. It really was like nothing I’d seen on stage before, and it was one of those times when you sense you are in the middle of a creative “moment”. It was exciting, new and fresh, and it reaffirmed my view that there are always many sides to a story and different ways of telling them.

Which book most challenged your thinking?

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. This book made me rethink my perception of Jamaica in the 1970s. Of course, it is a fictionalised version of events but the truths amid that made it all so plausible and fascinating.

Which writer or poet do you return to the most?

Caryl Phillips. I keep returning to him for his concise treatment of social politics. He has a unique take and is extraordinarily perceptive about human beings and their struggles. He is unflinching in his approach. I particularly enjoyed Cambridge, a heartbreaking tale of slavery. His writing is so vivid, yet at the same time subtle. He deals with huge issues of abolition and slavery, managing to make it feel authentic and personal and so atmospheric.

What are you watching, listening to or following that you would recommend?

My recommendations all seem to be Netflix—often I’ll have something on in the background when I paint. I’m loving The Last Dance, the Michael Jordan documentary. It is such a compelling watch, packed with truly insightful interviews. I’m not even a huge fan of his, or of basketball, but it’s an interesting character portrayal regardless, and fascinating to see what drives the man and the mythology. Abstract: The Art of Design is another interesting documentary, with profiles of eight leading designers. Finally, Hip-Hop Evolution is such a thorough documentation of the history of hip-hop. I’m so interested in seeing how these kids found their voice, how they found a sound to express themselves. It’s much like how, in Jamaica in the 1960s, reggae was the sound or language that came out of independence. On Instagram, Duro Olowu’s brilliant account is an eclectic sweep through the worlds of art, design and fashion, and a rewarding one to follow.

What is art for?

For filling in the gaps. Some things can’t be said or explained but only expressed, and for that art will always be an essential part of communication, of passing on truths and memories and what it means to be human.


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