Harry Hill exhibits paintings and sculptures at Edinburgh Art Festival

This article is from 2012

Harry Hill exhibits paintings and sculptures at Edinburgh Festival

Photo: Jonathan Root

TV Burp comedian displays other side in My Hobby

Best known for his oversized collars and lampooning celebrity culture on TV Burp, comedian Harry Hill is gearing up to take the Edinburgh Festival by storm … with an art exhibition. He tells Allan Radcliffe about the crossover between comedy and his latest sideline

The fact that Harry Hill is set to make an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival is not in itself big news. The bald-headed, bespectacled, large-collared comedian has a long association with the world’s largest arts beano, grabbing early raves for his quirky stand-up and winning the Perrier Best Newcomer award in 1992. But while fans of the comedian will get to see him strutting the boards, mike in hand, for four nights at this year’s Fringe, his main reason for heading north this August is altogether more surprising: his first public exhibition of paintings and sculptures, modestly entitled My Hobby.

‘For my day job, I watch television, play with knitted toys and regularly get custard pies thrown in my face,’ says Hill, referring to his most familiar incarnation, as the host of ITV megahit TV Burp, which bowed out of the schedules earlier this year. ‘So, in the evening I like to listen to Schubert, read a bit of Proust and dabble in oil painting. I’ve been doing it for about 15 years now. It’s a lovely hobby with a long lineage. Prince Charles and Winston Churchill, both keen water colourists, and I hear that Peter Andre is very handy with crayons. So I’m in excellent company.’

Anyone familiar with the comedian’s career trajectory to date will perhaps be less startled at this latest extension to the Harry Hill franchise. Anyone who can make the shift from house officer at Doncaster Royal Infirmary (where he was known under the slightly less snappy moniker of Dr Matthew Hall) to becoming one of Britain’s most successful comedians with sidelines as a novelist and comic book writer and even creating his own brand of fair trade peanuts was never going to be easy to pigeonhole. As part of the exhibition Hill has done an interview with his real-life pal, the artist David Shrigley, who claims Hill’s paintings capture the essence of what the comedian does on TV and in stand up, but through the medium of oil paint. Certainly, madcap images such as Philip Schofield being tormented by circling Apache helicopters, Status Quo’s Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt depicted as conjoined twins or Brit Pop artists drawn onto coconuts wouldn’t look out of place among the surreal, anarchic, somewhat grotesque satirical sketches on TV Burp.

‘Art and celebrity culture go hand in hand,’ he agrees. ‘Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Hill. We are commentating on culture around us in our unique ways. If Andy Warhol was alive today, he would certainly have been making ten-foot screen prints of Chris Tarrant. Dali might well have painted Alex Salmond holding a salmon.’

With an army of fans, including around eight million regular telly viewers, it looks likely that My Hobby will prove a hit with festival audiences, including many people who wouldn’t normally darken the doors of an art gallery. For those worrying that the exhibition signals a permanent move into more solitary activity, fear not: Hill still gets a buzz performing live and is looking forward to taking to the stage at the Stand.

‘I was thinking of mixing the art exhibition with the stand up gig,’ he says. ‘Kind of live painting performance art, with a few gags thrown in. Then I thought, that sounds terrible, let’s keep the comedy on stage and the art in the gallery, it’s funnier that way.’

And while he feels some understandable trepidation at unveiling the fruits of his hobby to the public for the first time he’s excited to see what audiences at the Edinburgh Art Festival make of his paintings. ‘If the show goes down well, I’m hoping to tour it. I’ve made several calls to the people at the Louvre and I’m pretty sure they are interested, though they do keeping answering in French, so I can’t be totally sure.’

Harry Hill: My Hobby, White Stuff, Edinburgh, 300 0330, 2 Aug–2 Sep, free.

Harry Hill: My Hobby

Yes, the sizably-collared comedian likes to make art, generally pictures depicting celebrities in more or less absurd situations (one title is The Descent of Chris Tarrant Into Hell) but there are some more disturbing ones too, such as Status Quo's Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt depicted as a self-cuddling conjoined twin…

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