THE SANDMAN – Humble Harkins puts things in perspective

They’ll only make sense when viewed from the perfect angle and are relived only through photos and memories. They can take hours to complete but will only last as long as the next high tide and that’s if the wind, rain or dogs don’t ruin them first.

WORDS SIMON NEATE / PHOTOS LOGAN DAVEY

They’re not very lucrative either. “All I’ve sold so far is a couple of photos,” laughs Jamie Harkins, unconcerned in his financial assessment of his three dimensional sand art pieces, the medium

for which he is most well-known.

With a stick as his brush and the beach as his canvas his creates works that have been photographed and spread virally through social media in 2014 and have brought him adulation and enquiries from all over the world.

Sand art and internet fame may share something in their temporary nature but Jamie, 41, relishes in the momentary existence of his creations. “I reckon that’s one of the coolest things about the sand art, it’s so unique how you have to race against the tide and in a couple of hours it’s all gone.”

Jamie is motivated by the knowledge people are enjoying his ingenuity, driven by the idea of showcasing future creations and already visualising his next big artistic advancement.

Both imagination and modesty are apparent when stepping into Jamie’s homely Oceanview Road flat in Mount Maunganui, a place he’s rented for seven years during which time he’s seen about thirty flatmates come and go. Art litters the walls: vivid hybrid landscapes, incomprehensible psychedelic pieces and numerous portraits of varying styles. Guitars rest in the corner, an old couch and home-built table suffice for outdoor furniture and the grapevine and garden Jamie grew from free plants provides privacy from the neighbours.

Art has remained a constant through stints as a cleaner,

house painter, knife hand and bar tender. These days Jamie sells the odd painting, does commission portraits now and then, works part time as a kitchen hand and by his own admission is not a wealthy man. While a stereotypical portrayal of a struggling artist is tempting Jamie doesn’t fit this mould as he is content, surrounded by good friends and happily living a life of creativity.

Clues to the origin of Jamie’s creativity and humbleness emerge when quizzed about his childhood. He grew up in a few different houses in Tauranga during which time the family home was rarely empty. “My parents ran social welfare homes where we would take

in kids and look after them. We always shared what we had and

my brother and I had heaps of different people to talk to and

learn from.”

INFLUENCED BY THE MASTERS

Jamie’s enthusiasm and appreciation for art is apparent when he recalls one child in particular who he cites as his first artistic influence. “He was just this young kid, but amazingly talented, real good at drawing realistic trucks with coloured pencils.”

Jamie describes himself as a pretty quiet kid who took to art from an early age. “When other kids were fighting or playing loudly I’d be immersed in my art, studying how a dragon’s scales look or how you make a car bumper look shiny. These quiet times taught me how to observe, listen and focus.” Jamie responds without hesitation when asked about his biggest artistic influences. “The masters,” he exclaims.

In his teens he was intrigued reading about artists like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso and at an age where people struggle with their own identities he found their personal stories somewhat relatable. “Their artworks are amazing but it was their lives as well that made me admire them. They were born to create and kept creating despite their social class, poverty, illness or eccentric personalities.

Their conviction to be themselves and not to adhere to expectations

of normality fascinated me and became the way I wanted to live.”

Jamie enjoyed art classes at high school but unfortunately his passion for art didn’t translate to great grades. He puts his School Certificate and Bursary Art failures down to an inconsistency in his portfolio and an inability to conform to the curriculum requirements. “I’ve always been pretty eclectic, trying one thing and then another, experimenting with this and that but the school’s expectations were different, they wanted every piece to fall in a sequence, they wanted a uniform look and feel to our submissions when mine were just all over the place.”

Post high school Jamie tried a few different art courses with mixed academic success but eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Media Arts from Waikato Institute of Technology in Hamilton. “I suppose eventually I understood what they were after. I got used to the process and to the idea of writing about art.”

Sand art is just one trick in a big box of Jamie’s creative talents. He’s a painter and a sculptor, dabbles in long exposure photography, experiments with acrobatics, plays bass guitar alongside his brother Kaine and a few mates in local band, Antwars, and is a big fan of chalk art. “Chalk art’s awesome. I used to do these big pieces on hardboard and then wanted to go bigger so I started experimenting with a three dimensional technique on the street. I just chewed through the chalk though, it got really expensive. I was spending hundreds of dollars on chalk.”

SAND AS CANVAS

With the cost of chalk proving a limiting factor Jamie sought a fresh canvas for his new 3D creations. During a session online researching 3D art he came across a random photo which would change the course of his artistic journey. The image, a simple optical illusion with 3D characteristics, was a rough stair shape drawn in sand. While not blown away by the art itself seeing that image was the ‘Eureka’ moment. “I could see underutilised potential in that photo, like there it was just scratching the surface of what was possible.”

In a region not lacking in sand Jamie, with the help of a few friends, soon began experimenting at the small beach on the southwest side of Mauao using a stick, a string and a rake. Basing each work off a rough sketch drawn at home about five minutes before Jamie would act as the eyes guiding the others as the hands. The technique he developed is based on the concept of one point perspective and gives the illusion of depth and height on an otherwise flat surface. Sun position is paramount as real shadows must fall in realistic places so they don’t ruin the illusion.

With potential creations limitless early pieces included geometric shapes and a chair and soon progressed to scenes featuring real people – skateboard bowls and ramps complete with skaters, a high diver leaping from a diving board in a mid-flip position bracing for splash down in the pool below, and a pier scene with a fisherwoman, a powerboat towing a water skier and a man sailing a small yacht.

His favourite so far features a monolithic pyramid-esque sculpture built atop a deep unforgiving looking pit crisscrossed by perilous bridge paths.“I don’t know what it is about that one. It doesn’t have much movement but is a pretty good example of how the technique can be used. It shows a lot of depth.”

The location they chose was perfect; picturesque with Matakana Island in the background, a touch of dynamism created by boats and ships floating by through the harbour entrance. The lower slopes of the Mount provided some much needed elevation for Jamie to gain perspective and formed a natural amphitheatre where locals and visitors out for a stroll would stop mid walk to watch the piece unfold.

The performance aspect of the art was appealing to the public and upcoming sessions were advertised on an ever growing  Facebook page with crowds upward of one hundred turning up to watch. Images of these sessions quickly spread online and were picked up by local media like the Bay of Plenty Times and Sunlive. Stories featured in the New Zealand Herald, on One News and Seven Sharp and on numerous blogs and news websites around the world including the large U.S.A. based Huffington Post site and the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

The attention came thick and fast and, as well as interview requests, Jamie was soon inundated with a plethora of emails, mostly from advertising agencies wanting to use his art to sell anything from early childhood education centre enrolments to mathematics text books. Promotion companies wanted their piece too. “It’s definitely unexpected but pretty cool I guess. People are taking an interest but nothing much has come of the approaches; they’re all really keen

for me to do the work and come in promising all sorts of things but I never see as much as a contract.”

DESERT ART IN ISRAEL

Recently though an unsolicited offer led Jamie to renew his passport for an impromptu trip to the desert.

In mid December, Jamie, as a guest of the Central Arava Regional Council, was the key artist at an art symposium at the Arava Community Centre in Southern Israel. Although a bit vague on the details he was under the impression he’d be training some local artists to use his 3D technique and working together on some sand art. He admitted to feeling some nerves about the trip adding he knew nothing about Israel and had no idea what to expect but was clear on one thing. “I want to create something big while I’m over there.”

Asked to wave a magic wand and outline an ideal scenario sand art wise, it’s not surprising the idea of making a lot of money isn’t the first thing to spring to mind. Jamie envisions traveling throughout New Zealand perfecting his craft, scouting out beaches and sharing his creations with the locals.  He’s already got the ball rolling in the form of a funding application with Creative New Zealand and sees the whole thing as more of an adventure and an exhibition than a business idea. “That would be the dream, cruising around with a couple of mates, checking out the country’s beaches, doing some huge art pieces, even reading up on the local history of a region

and working the traditions and legends of the area into the art.”

Away from the beach and the desert Jamie sees other avenues for 3D and what his future could hold artistically. “It’s cool because one point perspective has been around since about the 1500s but it’s kind of come full circle and has new possibilities in the modern world. I have this vision of using it to create massive 3D scenes on the side of buildings and other structures, the bigger the better.

I’ve already figured out in my head how it would look and how it could be done. As well as art it could be used in advertising too.”

Jamie is happy doing things his own way. He knows what he likes and is unconcerned about living up to others’ ideas of normal or expected. He’s very appreciative of his friends and family and realises he wouldn’t be able to life his artistic life without their support. “My parents have come to realise how untraditional I am and that I won’t be defined by buying a house, getting married or having children. My art is like my children in a way,” Jamie laughs. “Get rid of them as fast as possible and occasionally run into them…ha ha nah don’t put that in there!”