Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Steven Harvey "Ark 44: Paintings from Kakadu"

When I first picked up the invitation for Steven Harvey's new exhibition at Liverpool St Gallery, I had just seen the work of a skillful photo realist painter, and was wondering if I shouldn't pursue that type of art instead of the abstract landscape I had been grappling, struggling, fighting with and possibly drowning in. Seeing Harvey's work changed that straight away - if I could ever paint like him, the struggle would be worth it. Abstraction IS my artform of choice. Period. No Comparison.
So I saw the show today...it's not an easy one, and demands time from the viewer, which is more than rewarded by the experience of sinking into the cool dark canyons of "Ark 44 Jim Jim Falls" and "Pine Falls Kakadu". I swear I could hear the birds! How does he do it? Paint refuse bubbles up from under layers of scrapings and trowelling, or hint at a substrate not quite there, or evidences a mine full of other workings underneath; exposing not much more than the fact that the eye sees more at a glance than the brain comprehends over time.
I happened to run into Steven, who told me he spent only two weeks in Kakadu, but all the works on paper were done and finished there. He then worked from other abstract drawings he made on site, then from these drawings again, further abstracting them until he reached a concentrated, simplified experience of the land around him. (It was great to discover he works in a similar process to me!) These works are apparently simple, but monumental in their effect on me and the wall that could barely contain them- wonderful objects exaggerated by the "double canvas" construction, where the sides are painted elements from his abstract drawings.
The works on paper are all gorgeous and rendered on hand-made paper in Indian powdered pigment - the small work "Long Shadow, Ubir Rock Kakadu" is a beautiful piece of unexpected colours, freshly painted simplicity and an almost "primal calling" that, to me, represents the best of Steven' work and was offered here at an unbelievably reasonable price. Oh the pain of no money!
Take the time to let your eye roam the surfaces (and sides) of these works; marvel at what seems easy yet speaks volumes in a quiet but very insistent, authoritative voice. On at Liverpool St Gallery, Darlinghurst until 1st October
Image: Steven Harvey, Long Shadow, Ubir Rock Kakadu 2009

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