At first sight Sarah Harvey’s paintings – of figures floating in pools – seem to be of a familiar subject matter within contemporary art, the theme a useful pictorial device for the exploration of whole range of abstract painterly effects. They do indeed do just that and with great technical virtuosity too but, look again, closer and harder, and it becomes increasingly apparent that something else, altogether more interesting and personal is going on, the obsession with a theme that has dominated her work since her last year at art-school - some five years already – a clear indication that her artistic imagination has been engaged, that she has, in this specific subject matter, begun to find the first mature expression of those ideas that made her want to become a painter in the first place, from her account of it, something her teachers both at school and college seem to have done their best to deter her from!
The turning point, five years ago, came during the course of a travel scholarship from Newcastle University, when she discovered a green painted open air-swimming pool in the Tuscan hills near Lucca Situated beneath trees, the effect was of swimming seemingly suspended between and immersed in green water and green light, its spatial ambiguities suggesting “a whole new undiscovered world beneath”, as she puts it, where her “imagination begins to work in overdrive and I come up with all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas of what could be lurking below.” At the same time, it has also to be said, the theme has also been the means of expressing her very sensual delight in water - “I absolutely love the water to look at and also when I am playing in it” - as is very apparent from the joyful exuberance of her handling of light and colour across the surface of the water and the figures. In short the subjects, essentially always a self-portrait, for she is the swimmer in the photographic images she uses as her pictorial starting point, have, over the course of the last five years, become a powerful visual metaphor for the expression of both the exuberant and physically extrovert side of her personality and evidence also of a more complex and introverted sensibility, or what she admits to as “notions of insecurity, fantasy and sexuality.”
In these latest paintings, which cover a wide range of watery geographical locations from the Jog Falls in India and the Red Sea to Hampstead Heath Lido, these themes are pursued with increasing richness and subtlety, the largest and most ambitious of the works on show, Kaleidoscope Dreams, with its split-mirror image of the swimming figure and black hair streaming spikily out into the water, among the most arresting and curiously disturbing images she has yet produced. Moreover its now extremely radical fragmentation of the figure within the ripples of water has not been allowed to become a mere exercise in virtuosic abstraction but, rather, makes itself essential to the expression of the work’s emotional complexity. One of the great American critics of the post-war period, Harold Rosenberg, once shrewdly observed that “Painting is the same metaphorical substance as the artist’s existence”, a process, in effect, that reveals the personality of the painter. If that is indeed true, as I believe it is, then in Sarah Harvey’s case it is, these paintings are the witness of a gifted and emotionally committed young artist.
2 Opinions where posted
by Robert Rotbart 27.10.08 10:54
I can't wait for this exhibition. All the paintings look amazing and I know they will be better in the actual exhibition. All the luck in the world for this exhibition and future endeavours.Report this opinion as offensive
by Paulus 28.10.08 12:12
These paintings look even better than your last ones! Can't wait to see them at the exhibition, I'm sure it'll be fantastic.Report this opinion as offensive