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An interview with Dan Hersey

16 March 2015

Dan Hersey is the manager of Unison Colour, and the youngest son of John Hersey, the artist who founded the company and developed all the recipes for the entire range of colours. John Hersey died in 2008. In this interview we hear some of Dan's memories of his father.

What is your earliest memory of your father being an artist?

I remember him drawing me when I was about eleven. He drew me in the large sitting room at Thorneyburn. I was wearing a hat, I always wore hats as a child. I liked being drawn. It felt intimate, and he was paying attention to me. He drew me in pastel, but before he used pastels he mainly used charcoal. This was one of his first pastel drawings. 

I also remember his studio, which was a big wooden cabin in the garden. I remember a cosy feeling going into his studio, the fire was always going with the smell of linseed oil, of waxes and glues. There were pots and pans, brushes, and strange objects that I didn't know, like big blocks of beeswax. He was in his studio a lot. My wife and I have since cleared the studio and it is used for meditation and retreats now. It still has a cosy atmosphere, somewhere you really want to be.

How did art impact the family? 

Hugely. Dad encouraged us to be creative. My brother Rob went into acting and singing, and J.P became a graphic designer. I always wanted to be an artist, but was put off by my art teacher at school. So that's why its good to be running the company now. Dad valued creativity more than anything, more than school. He wanted me to become an artist. He valued artists like Cezanne and Rothko. They were like gurus to him. What people did artistically was the only thing of any importance to him. He was highly critical, and very select in whom he considered to be good. To him good meant art that went beyond the usual way of looking, that transcended into another realm, away from the ordinary. He wouldn't use the word spiritual, but that would perhaps describe his view.

What do you remember of the pastel making when you were a child?

The discussions in the family around the tea table, a mad plan to make pastels. He started with the large size. It became an obsession. He was very precise. I am sure I thought there should be a small size as well, but Rob thinks it was him! But we weren't really part of the actual process, he did all that alone in his studio.

What do you think the pastels meant to your father? 

It was mainly about the colours. He was in search of harmony between a whole spectrum of colours. He had a very precise aim. (You can read about his philosophy on the website here)

You made some colours together before he died, can you describe that experience?

It was nice to be with him in his studio with the fire going, making colours, talking about the colours, his philosophy. He wanted to make some with me, he wanted to pass it on to me. We spent five months together making colours that he felt were needed. He knew he wouldn't be around much longer. John's set were the last colours he made. We made them in the winter, as I was away in the summer in France. They were originally launched as the 'Summer Series', in the late spring. We renamed them 'John's Set' after he had died. It was very special to me, I felt that I connected to him, and to his work before he died. 

How does it feel to carry on your father's business?

It is rewarding and special to be able to do so, as though it's what am meant to do. I want to grow the business, so more people can use the colours he created, because they are truly beautiful, and unique, because they have a felt, intuitive sense behind them. I want to carry on something not from a business model, but from an artistic creation, creating something for artists, not just to run a business.

Our next interview will be with Zaria Forman, the environmental pastel, who draws oceans and icebergs. Look out for it soon in the new newsletter.

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