Q&A with Harry Pass, Creative Director, Elegant Clutter
Tell us when your love of art first began?
My dad was an architect and interior designer with his own business. He used to take me into work sometimes and he also did some of his work at home. I think it started by gazing at the pencil lines on the drawing board. No CAD allowed – everything was drawn by hand. My dad taught me how to draw in perspective at a young age and I started art lessons at school with a bit of a head start. I looked forward to those lessons more than any other subject – I had some wonderful art teachers.
How did the business come about?
Some of my dad’s clients were in the hospitality sector. The finished projects needed to be dressed with accessories, artwork, mirrors and bric-a-brac. This is where my mother came in; she is very entrepreneurial and saw an opportunity to start her own business using her creativity and love for interior styling. Initially she was supporting my dad by dressing the spaces that he had designed but eventually she began to gather clients for herself, building her own independent business, which eventually became Elegant Clutter.
How do you decide which artists you want to work with?
It’s about establishing a really good brief and then getting together with the team and working out what style of art we need for each art location. I think first of all, we need to understand the Interior experience we are helping to create. This leads onto narratives and storytelling and then we research relevant artists, whether that be someone who works as a painter, digital artist, 3D artist or even someone who works with metal or wood – variety is the key! Our art consultancy work has allowed us to meet quite a lot of artists around the world and we are now bringing this together within a new service offering called Art Story. The projects we do are so varied, and we need to be adventurous in our art research – this helps us expand our network and so the choice of artists keeps growing all the time. Going forwards, we’ll be sharing more on the artists we work with and so I think we’ll start to get more client led requests. We also have a really talented team of in-house designers and artists who create both open and limited-edition artwork.
Lots of people are scared of not appearing knowledgeable when it comes to art – how would you advise getting over that reticence?
I would say, don’t hold back, otherwise you might miss out on something that will add so much to your life! Art is one of those subjects that is so rich, it can get very academic and intellectual. I think that we’ve got to remember how to enjoy art instinctively – like we did as young children. We shouldn’t get too worried about the exact French or Italian art history terms. I think the way to do it is to grow your art knowledge gradually but always through your own enjoyment of art – this will keep it personal to you and no-one is more knowledgeable about the art that you like than you…
You offer a complete service from picture framing to carpentry, metalwork through to printing – why did you decide to offer all these services combined?
To be honest I don’t think it was ever the plan at the beginning. We started out by dressing spaces with mirrors, accessories and artwork. When I first joined the business 16 years ago, I couldn’t resist taking on new challenges. I didn’t always know how we were going to achieve things and I inherited my mother’s instinct to say “yes we can do that” before going back to base to then work out how we would actually tackle it. We gradually built up a range of in-house techniques and how to design for these techniques. The ability to combine all these techniques together has turned into one of the cornerstones of our business. What is also exciting is using this practical knowledge to collaborate with our Artstory artists on aspects such as how to present or hang their work.
Your business is a family business – what differences does that make to how you do things
What is great about working in a family business is that there is a certain vibe that flows through the business, which is very different to being in a purely shareholder commercial business. There is a culture that is based on trust which allows decisions to be made very quickly, which helps us be creative and ambitious.
Why does art enhance a space such as an office?
Art can enhance in so many ways, but it really depends on what the client is trying to achieve and what the aim for the space is. Artwork will create a certain ambiance in each space and so you have to curate it carefully in each area. When done well, it will help the different areas maximise their potential. For example, a certain collection of art could help start conversations and create a relaxed and fun vibe in the public spaces whereas a more meditative and abstract look and feel could be more desirable in the main office space. Art can really help bring a workspace to life and to make it energising.
Is there a magic formula for how many artworks you can have in a space without it feeling too gallery-like?
There are methods in terms of looking at a wall space in relation to the size of the room, the furniture, lighting and the number of people likely to be in the room but I think those rules are there to be broken. There have been many projects that I have worked on where it has been fun to go overscale with the art in a small room or put some tiny pieces in a large room. You just don’t know until you get the project brief and you visit the space.
What artwork do you have at home that you most treasure?
The artwork we have created at home as a family is most treasured. Beyond that, the piece of artwork that I most admire is a piece of marquetry which is handcrafted using different types of wood veneer. It’s quite a large piece of work and it shows a mountain scene with a lake, which I imagine is somewhere like the Alps. It a perfect piece of work that has been made with dedication. I’m an outdoors person at heart and I like to get out running or biking whenever I can. This is a scene of nature made with nature. It wasn’t a big investment but every time I look at it, it draws me in.
Do you have a piece of artwork that you wished you represented (i.e what’s your favourite artwork)?
I don’t have a favourite artwork, but I am constantly bowled over by talents such as CJ Hendry, Lisa Krannichfeld and Fabienne Verdier. Sometimes I am are leafing through magazine pages or researching online and I get stopped in my tracks by a standout piece of work and get totally distracted from what I was doing. I keep a running list of artists that I am keen to talk to.
If you could meet any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
This is such a difficult question. I think for me it would probably be one of the impressionists or post-impressionists. When I was 19, I lived in Paris for six months and I used to visit the Musée D’Orsay to wander around that amazing collection of art and pretend I was a local. Impressionist paintings are like dreams and you can stare at them for hours. Out of all the painters of that era I think it would have to be Van Gogh, which probably seems like a very obvious answer – but he was something else – a complete one off. We are all overexposed to his work, but I do think he was a true art genius and it would be fascinating to meet the man himself.
What’s the most memorable exhibition at a gallery you’ve seen and why?
I think it has to be the Summer exhibition at the Royal Academy. I love the fact that it’s an open exhibition and you have some well-known artists alongside new talent. It’s constantly reinventing itself as every year it is curated by somebody different. The last show I went to was put together by Grayson Perry. It works on so many levels and so for me this is an art experience that I would recommend to anyone.
Is there a budding artist in you?
Yes there is. I’ve promised myself I’ll let the artist out fully one day…