The appeal of this exhibition is in the invitation it offers
to enter the artists studio and witness the actpart
observance, part artificethat unites artist and model
on the canvas.
It is unpretentious in scale and in intention. Each painting
is sized to oblige assimilation in a single look. It does
not set out to make claims, to illustrate a theory or dazzle
with bravura. Nevertheless, the ensemble has a bearing that
holds its own among the styles and counter styles currently
While Harvey holds his place within the figurative tradition,
he is unconstrained by any strict canon of representation.
Literal adherence to precise reproduction, as the camera seems
to render, is not at the heart of his undertaking. Rather,
the real subject of these paintings is the process of depiction.
The scene portrayed prompts consideration of its means.
Harvey works contrapuntally, his process carried forward
by contrast between thin, efflorescent passages of light and
dark and the interplay of complements and near-complements:
variegated blues and violets against splendid expanses of
yellow broken by oranges and shifts into red.
Awareas both a painter and curatorof the tradition
which precedes him and informs his own work, Harvey is intent
on creating work that is decidedly of this century in style
and content. Narrative content turns on the age-old theme
of the artist and his model. Yet the paintings are better
described as displays of the painters language, informal
surface performances that constitute a kind of dramaturgy.
Each piece remains a première pensée,
the paint kept fresh and liquid as evidence of the initial
John Goodrichs summation of the activity within these
paintings cannot be stated any better: "Harvey explores
the reflected worlds within mirrors, and like Bonnard,
he uses a model casually posed before a mirror to plumb the
visual paradoxes of the familiar. His studio proves a fertile
world, with chairs, a heater, and painting racks populating
the receding spaces behind his figures, all rendered in fluid
strokes and vital hues. Like Bonnard, he likes to jolt the
eye with sudden contradictions of depth, to to unfold new
and unexpected vistas."
Reference to Bonnard is useful on several levels. Both use
the inversion of figure and reflection to probe the visual
conundrum provided. Mirrors accommodate Harveys involvement
with peripheral vision and his concern, like Bonnards,
with flattening the field of vision. Harveys approach
to space is also similar, his compositions conveying the sense
of a space which simultaneously opens up only to close back
in upon itself, airless and and confined. Suggestions of depth
are noted and immediately negated by Harveys painterly
emphasis on a flat, two-dimensional planar scheme. The figure
and its reflection function as patterns rather than indications
of receding and advancing forms.
For Bonnard, the motif of the nude reflected in her dressing
table mirror is an intensely private, personal one. By contrast,
Harvey seizes her reflection as an item of studio clutter.
It is one more in the series of verticals and horizontals
mingled with an occasional curvea breast, a buttock,
the slope of a thighthat strike the eye in the hermetic
world of the studio.
The tense angularity of Harveys models shifts away
from the French, suggesting a more Northern vision.. He foregoes
sculptural density for an economical, brushy figuration that
is much closer in handling to Edvard Munchs or Emil
Noldes than to Bonnards. Christian Rohlfs also
comes to mind.
Harveys figures are languid and spare in their anatomy.
His women bear structural similarity to the standing male
of LHomme el la femme, 1900; indeed, to any of
the male figures that Bonnard worked between 1898 to 1900,
a time when Munch was highly influential among Bonnards
contemporaries. Throughout his life, Bonnard handled the female
form quite differently from these early males, understood
to be self-portraits. There is little erotic charge in these
attenuated males, just as there is little in the majority
of Harveys female nudes.
An exception has to be made here for the three nearly life-sized
paintings, hung close together to suggest a single unit, of
a standing female figure that dominate the gallery. In each,
a frontal, naked presence gazes right back at artist and viewer.
Behind the figure and to the side, a mirror offers a full-length
reflection of her back. A different model, longsome and poised,
tenants each canvas of the tripart grouping.
The identity of the model is so distinct we could address
her by name if we knew it. Perhaps because it so subdued in
the other paintings, the models individual presence
here reminds us that they are not interchangeable artifacts
but three quite specific women. That recognition, and the
fondness it suggests, is all that is needed to convey an erotic
charge that lies quiescent in other canvases.
Nudity, of itself, primarily suggests vulnerability. Eroticism
derives from elsewhere, from greetings extended to the power
of flesh and its passionsincluding, in the case of Marthe
Boursin, a passion for bathing. As a general principle in
Harveys nudes, pleasure in flesh is not admissible evidence.
Eroticism, in the end, is an easy game. Harvey earns respect
for choosing the more intricate route. Overall, what matters
in this suite of paintings is the opportunity the model offers
to explore the kaleidoscope of vision within the fragmentary
arrangements set by the restricted vehicle of the studio.
Harvey accomplishes it with spirit and a communicable love
of the theater of everyday life.