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Harry Pye at The Sartorial Gallery

The Outsider Artist Considers The LIllies In a Show About Christianity

After graduating from the Camberwell School of Art, Harry Pye took a ten-year hiatus from painting but thankfully, five years ago, he returned to the canvas and his star has been in ascendance ever since. His latest show at the new Sartorial Gallery space in King's Cross explores Chistianity from the perspective of a confirmed atheist, and poses some interesting questions about religion in the 21st Century. We thought we'd catch up with the singularly original writer, artist and publisher to find out more...

Dazed Digital: How do you view Christianity?
Harry Pye:
 Some Christians recently knocked at my door and asked if I wanted to come to a pancake party with them. My view of life is, "If you've got time for me, I've got time for you." So, I thanked them for the invitation. However, after talking to them a little I couldn't help thinking that some of the things they were saying were silly. It's wrong to judge people. Jesus told his followers to judge not others but... I can't help it. So, when they were at my door talking about pancakes, I found myself thinking that the guy was a bit of a fool. I am a bad man. It's not that I want to be good. It's that I want to want to be good. And for me, wanting to want to be good is what Christianity is all about. There's an old joke by Emo Phillips that I like – "You ask me if I'm a Christian. If by ‘Christian’ you mean a man who goes to Church every Sunday and reads the Bible everyday – then no, I am not a Christian. But if by ‘Christian’ you mean someone who tries to see the best in people, who always forgives people and who always turns the other cheek – then again, no, I am not a Christian.

DD: Has this undertaking made you think more about the possible existence of god?
 There is no God. I used to like watching shows like Little House on The Prairie. There are lots of little comforting stories. But every now and then something terrible would happen, such as a young girl going blind. The girl's father is heartbroken, he says to God, "Why did this happen? Why are you punishing us?" Then, at the end of the show the blind girl would announce that when she grew up she would open a school for blind children. The Dad would then say, "Ahh, now I get it. It was all meant to be." The reality is that things don't always happen for a reason and things don't all turn out nicely at the end. Don't get me wrong: Life is amazing and I am in love with the world but... I don't believe in God. I never did and probably never will.

DD: Do you think Jesus is the ultimate icon?
 The reason I started doing the Jesus-based painting was because I went to Brazil and saw the gigantic statue of Christ. I was in Brazil because I had a solo show at The Thomas Cohn gallery in Sao Paulo. I hadn't had a holiday abroad for 20 years. 2008 had been great – I'd had personal success, as had the rest of the Sartorial team. My Mum was able to retire and my sister had a baby. William Blake once observed, "excess of joy weeps" and at times as I walked along the beaches I really was crying with happiness. I was there with a really great friend thinking how wonderful everything was and for some reason I remembered a song by Johnny Cash called, “Why Me Lord?” The lyrics are very simple. He sings, “Why me Lord, what have I ever done to deserve one of the pleasures that I've known. Tell me Lord, what did I ever do that was worth loving you or the kindness you've shown." But then we went to see this giant sculpture. Hell is other people. And predictably lots of tourists were pushing into us. Everyone seemed a bit rude and grumpy. We went and had a drink and my friend and I were saying things like, "Hmm, I don't really like Christians" and "This giant sculpture is wrong because Jesus was about being humble " and before too long we were making The Life of Brian type jokes and concluding that organised religion is a curse upon the earth. 

DD: Do you reckon that on your deathbed you will be praying to somebody or something?
 I've never believed in life after death. Even as a six-year-old it seemed daft to believe in having a soul or that some of us would go to heaven and hell and others would be reincarnated. I think that when you're dead your fingernails keep growing for a bit but that's about it. It's a good thing. I hope when I die someone might be able to use some of my organs. And I hope on my deathbed I say something funny. I hope my final words make someone laugh or feel happy.

Harry Pye – Getting Better is at The Sartorial Gallery from March 25th – April 18th.