BY Róisín Tapponi in Interviews | 06 JUN 24

‘Painting Can Feel Chaotic’: Harmony Korine on His Latest Works

To coincide with his show in London, the renowned filmmaker discusses thermal imaging, skateboarding and exchanging his lens for a brush

BY Róisín Tapponi in Interviews | 06 JUN 24

Harmony Korine presents a new series of oil paintings for his latest solo exhibition, ‘AGGRESSIVE DR1FTER PART II’, currently on view in London. The exhibition follows ‘AGGRESSIVE DR1FTER’ (2023) at Hauser & Wirth Downtown Los Angeles and features acid-pigmented scenes from Korine’s newly released film, AGGRO DR1FT (2023). Drawing from a wide range of sensory references, including contemporary internet culture and infrared technology, Korine uses painting to further his vision of a new type of cinematic experience.

Róisín Tapponi How has looking at paintings informed your filmmaking process and vice versa? Where do you find the overlaps and the disconnections?

Harmony Korine It’s all image-based and image-obsessed. And, in some ways, they both blend into each other. But the processes are completely different, and there’s a nice balance to the process. Films are so collaborative, there are so many people around and there’s so much external energy and technical thought that goes into everything to do with the moving image. There’s something nice and pure and direct about making art or making paintings. Painting is more of a singular activity. Or, at least, I find it a more internalized creative process. Painting can feel chaotic in your mind. I like the physicality of working the canvas.

Harmony Korine
Harmony Korine, REVELATOR MAXIMUS, 2023, oil on canvas, 62 × 93 cm. Courtesy: © Harmony Korine and Hauser & Wirth; photo: Keith Lubow

RT Formally, does painting bring something that you can’t achieve through filmmaking?

HK Yes. I think of it in simple terms: oil on canvas, paint on canvas. This exhibition is the second time I have presented reworked imagery from AGGRO DR1FT. I conceived the film as a moving painting in some ways, or something more sensory, and it felt like all part of the same thing. The film itself is made in a very untraditional way, with lots of visual effects: AI, thermal cameras, compositing images and digital composites. But the painting was very simple. How do you interpret the same emotion through a different process?

RT The use of colour is striking. I was thinking about Philip Guston, who used a luminous pink, alla prima, to highlight what he called his ‘crapola’. This wetness, this luminosity of colour, really comes to the fore in your paintings and your films to better highlight this beauty in the crap as well. How do you think about colour?

HK Colour has always been an obsession of mine: colour and light, sunlight and this idea of chasing the energy. And even with AGGRO DR1FT, this idea of carving images out of colour appealed to me. In some ways, it’s not far from when I look at a John McCracken sculpture, where you see objects carved out of colour. Then, pushing colour into its hyper extremity is like the real world, except pushed into something more hyper-electric. Using thermal imaging was interesting, too, because the images are heat-based. It’s almost like chasing souls, or the renderings are internals; energy-based paintings.

Harmony Korine
Harmony Korine, ‘AGGRESSIVE DR1FTER Part II’, installation view. Courtesy: © Harmony Korine and Hauser & Wirth; photo: Alex Delfanne

RT They feel like a poolside party in Miami or David Hockney’s LA poolside. How has Miami informed your paintings? 

HK All of Florida is a big influence. When I moved there a decade ago, I hardly knew anybody. For me, it contains a very interesting vibe-based psychogeography. The landscape itself is really appealing, as are the skies and the colour of the buildings. It’s a metropolis built into the ocean with a very short past. It has a sense of no past floating in the water, constantly reinventing, high culture, low culture, all different socioeconomically. It has an exciting vibration. But, Miami, I love it. This film pushes the idea of a dystopian tropical.

Characters become energy, and energy becomes characters

RT Technology has always helped move painting in new directions. Your relationship with this infrared camera seems to inform a new relationship to building images. 

HK We’re setting out a tech and design collective in Miami called EDGLRD. Our project was all about experimentation. We wanted to create an experience that was more than just a story, something that had a narcotic, physical and hallucinatory effect. We delved into various technologies. At one point, a cinematographer started playing with thermal cameras. The beauty of the thermal imagery, with its shape-shifting and vibrant colours, was truly captivating. With these images there is a blurred line between abstraction and figurative forms. There are no hard edges. Characters become energy, and energy becomes characters. And this started to feel like everything was in motion all the time, and there was no fixed point. And it felt beautiful. We started messing around with more advanced thermal imaging. Then, we added layers of visual effects and AI to the imagery. 

Harmony Korine
Harmony Korine, BLZZRD, 2023, oil on canvas, 1.6 × 1.8 m. Courtesy: © Harmony Korine and Hauser & Wirth; photo: Keith Lubow

RT Your work embodies a game-core aesthetic through technology and how the actors move and converse. How do you apply this logic to painting?

HK Over the past few years, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to the world of gaming. My children were always immersed in it, and I couldn’t help but be intrigued. The level of detail, the aesthetics and the sheer scale of world-building in gaming surpassed anything I had seen in traditional narratives. I hesitate to call AGGRO DR1FT a movie. It’s really its own thing. I’m still wondering if there’s a way to make it never end. You can get skins for the characters, and they’re constantly remixing themselves in different sequences and orders. I’d like to try that. The painting is a part of the film. The painting is just more; it’s a physical by-product of the total concept. If it’s a film, it lives in the digital realm, but then there’s something nice about having an actual object that also dances in that world.

Harmony Korine
Harmony Korine, Drift XI, 2023, oil on canvas, 1.6 × 1.8 m. Courtesy: © Harmony Korine and Hauser & Wirth; photo: Keith Lubow

RT You seem to think about skateboarding similarly to how Raymond Pettibon does surfing. Does that skate culture come into play in your painting?

HK Not really. I always loved skateboarding. I always just loved watching skate clips. And when I was a kid, I used to skate. We have put together a skate team with sick riders, and we’re shooting clips now and putting together the first film. But it’s like a reimagining of what things can look like.

RT You’re working on a lot, but what things are you thinking about for the future?

HK I’m almost done with this new film called Baby Invasion. It pushes this idea of gamification. I’ve never made anything like it. In some ways, it might be the most challenging thing I’ve done. But it was shot with thousands of security cameras and GoPros and took place in real time over the course of a week. Then, I created this narrative or this game out of it. Elsewhere, at EDGLRD, we’re working on video games with a crew of different developers. The creatives are building these LLMs [large language models] to generate a lot of the tech they will be using on the films, the storytelling and then the imagery and building. It’s interesting; it’s like a lab. What I see in those rooms and what’s being designed and created is something I’ve never seen before. I spend all day there sometimes, and then I’ll go to my art studio afterwards or go fishing or something.

Harmony Korine’s ‘AGGRESSIVE DR1FTER PART II’ is at Hauser & Wirth, London, until 27 July 

Main image: Harmony Korine, STILTS ZOON X2 (detail), 2023, oil on canvas, 2.5 × 3.7 m. Courtesy: © Harmony Korine and Hauser & Wirth; photo: Keith Lubow

Róisín Tapponi is a film curator, writer and academic. She is the founder of Habibi Collective, SHASHA Movies, Independent Iraqi Film Festival and ART WORK magazine, as well as a recipient of a PhD Art History Scholarship at St Andrews University, Fife, Scotland.