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Contemporary rural artist raises money for Somerset Levels Relief Fund

PUBLISHED: 07:12 20 August 2014

Harry with the picture he is selling for the floods fund

Harry with the picture he is selling for the floods fund

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Maverick Somerset artist Harry Bunce, affectionately referred to as 'rural Banksy' has created a mesmerising limited edition print to raise money for the Somerset Levels Relief Fund.

Rachael D’Cruze-Sharpe visits his exhibition at Bristol’s Christmas Steps Gallery to find out more…

Harry Bunce’s work will not fail to grab your attention. Not that his work is loud; all of his pieces are beautiful and easy viewing but there is, on closer inspection, a darker tone, which gives a real edginess. “On the surface it’s soft but there is a feeling of unease,” agrees Harry, whose subjects include knife-wielding foxes and gamekeeping badgers. His gamekeeping badger piece is titled Private Property? and has proved to be very popular, selling to those on both sides of the ongoing badger debate – a real testament to Harry’s work. “That’s the fun of it,” he says talking about the different interpretations of his work.

“Art education almost killed my love of painting, so I turned to fashion and textile design. I didn’t touch a brush for years, and then I attended a sort of school reunion with friends I hadn’t seen for 20 years. The one question they all asked me was ‘how’s the art going?’ I resolved to start again that evening,” says Harry, who had been running a successful fashion design company with his wife. It was four years ago he returned to fine art with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm and he hasn’t looked back. These days his work draws from British folklore and he cites influences as diverse as Philip Guston, John Emms and children’s book illustrator Margaret Tempest.

Harry has been referred to as ‘rural Banksy’ previously and it’s easy to see why. As well as being refreshingly different, his work is certainly thought provoking. ‘Sail On!’ his latest piece, of which Harry is donating absolutely all of the profit to the Somerset Levels Relief Fund, is testament to this. The beautiful limited edition screen print captures the current mood on The Levels perfectly; “down but not out” he says. On first inspection Sail On! is simply a bucolic boating scene, but a closer look reveals Harry’s noted dark humour. For example, the trout with EU livery rising to a line baited with the Somerset Dragon, the fact that the boat is HMS Somerset, that the rabbit is throwing out an SOS bottle or, in a lighter vein, the animas have a bottle of Sheppy’s cider on board.

The piece took Harry a couple of months to complete. “It started with a sketch, which people said they liked and from there it took forever to finish,” he says.

“The work they put into getting it right was ridiculous,” he continues, talking about Bristol-based printers Screen One, which has previously worked with Banksy and Nick Walker. Harry goes on to say he’s only recently returned to screen-printing after a long time away, as he usually works in acrylics or mixed media.

The piece is centered on the fact that the floodwaters and publicity may have receded, but the Somerset Levels remain in crisis. “I listened to a feature on the radio which said the flooding had slipped off the agenda,” says Harry, who lives and works in the village of Wrington, North Somerset, a stones throw away from the Somerset Levels.

Harry unveiled the print at the end of May at the Royal Bath and West Show, attended by Camilla Duchess of Cornwall and it started selling immediately. The piece will now be shown in galleries around the South West.

Sail On! is available as a limited edition of 156 at £80 print only or £150 framed, with all profits going to the Somerset Levels Relief Fund. You can purchase it through Harry’s website harrybunce.com or from Clifton Fine Art, North Nibley, Tinca Gallery, Portishead, Pennybatch Gallery, Burcott or The Cottage Gallery, Wedmore.

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