ANU Drill Hall Gallery is featuring the works of an artist who approaches his work with a zealous eye for truth.
“I see my path as a painter almost biblical, apocalyptic at times, destroying in order to create as nature instructs. To become mannered or to replicate would be like playing the same piece of music over and over. By definition, an artist must strive to invent continuously, exploring the dark brutal truth and ugliness within beauty and vice versa regardless of public expectation, commercial reality and concepts of the career. A path of risk.” Steven Harvey says.
Throughout his career Harvey has immersed himself physically and philosophically in vast, remote and unfamiliar territory. From the central deserts of Australia to Papua New Guinea to India, he has walked and painted in solitude. In seeking to paint an equivalence of his experiences of nature, he has simplified imagery to the point of abstraction, conveying experience through structure and materiality. His studio is a cave-like hermitage, a place to challenge and conquer representations and meaning in painting.
In the early 2000s Harvey’s repeated walks along coastal landscapes of South Eastern Australia gave rise to fleshy, gestural paintings whose bands evoke both horizon and sea. The dense layering in works such as Coastal Walk - Apostle 2002 infer the repetitive action of walking, the reflection of light on watery surface and the shifting moods of weather.
In 2004 Harvey undertook a solo trip to remote Western Papua New Guinea to live amongst the Asaro people. From this experience emerged significant theoretical constructs and a trajectory that led to an obliteration of open natural spaces in his paintings all altogether. In New Guinea Snow of 2004 horizon evoking landscapes are boarded by impasto bands of colour, intimating outdoor space viewed through a window.
Following these windowed landscapes, in works caked with up to four inches of oil paint, Harvey removed almost all readable connection to landscape. Eradicating gesture he ground the congealed painted surface with a sanding disc, an alchemical process resulting in colours that seem to glow from within.
In Finns Raft (Ever and Ever) 2007-08 and Precipice 1 – Sky Castle 2005 Harvey obliterated layer after layer of painting. In finished works that can almost be read as totemic shields or flags, he seeks the most abbreviated form to convey his understanding of space and the human condition.
Parallel to painterly developments, Harvey constructed an allegorical text around the first Neanderthal who chose to stay in a cave, while his clan followed migrating herds according to the turning of seasons. Having made the decision to remain in isolation, the studio cave becomes a space in which the pursuit of self-knowledge is preferred to following the pack. He describes the decision of this Neanderthal to inhabit his cave - creating “the most colossal expansion of awareness in the history of human evolution…Through long winters bunkering in caves, touch become fire-lit animation upon the wall, language exceeds reference, stories flourish.”
In recent years Harvey’s practice has continued as an intently personal quest, played out in the studio/cave in large-scale paintings whose physical size equate to the challenge of Harvey’s theoretical endeavour. The surfaces of his paintings have shifted from weighty layered objects to dry, absorbent colour infusing surfaces of industrial compressed concrete. This Unrendered Room series features the structure and brevity of Harvey’s previous works with the intimacy of quiet thought and reflection.
Steven Harvey’s survey exhibition, Unrendered Room currently on show at ANU Drill Hall Gallery, tracks a luminous journey through internal and external landscapes. As a painter Harvey demands of himself rigor, purity, solitude and courage. His survey show and the accompanying catalogue present an intensely beautiful and dramatic view of colour and structure implicitly related to nature and of the human need to examine and decipher it.
Steven Harvey: Unrendered Room is on show at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery from 17 October to 15 December 2019. https://dhg.anu.edu.au/