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Vessels/Viage: Harold Garde


Vessels/Viage: Harold Garde will be on exhibit at the Maitland Art Center from January 10 through February 29, 2004. In this exhibition of new work, New Smyrna Beach Artist Harold Garde has created a world of vessels and visages infused with meaning -- moments in time in the lives of bottles, jars, people, and vases.

I have an abstract expressionist background. It was the approach that was the most excitingly new development in art when I was a young painter. Much of the training remains evident. I am interested in what paint can do, making marks that respond to my thoughts and actions. Because I now rarely choose to be non-figurative (the "abstract" of "abstract expressionism") there is likely to be an image that is evident. I establish the subject, then the concentrated work begins, developing the unique integrity of each piece.
Although I enjoyed experiences with sophisticated techniques and equipment, I now find satisfaction in selecting the simplest, the most basic. I choose to work in acrylics because of the easy adaptability when I paint on paper or canvas. For print-making I have developed and taught my dry image transfer "strappo" technique and I relish the effects I get using only the simplest of tools, acrylic paints and re-usable glass plates. (right: Red Platter, acrylic on canvas, 2002, 48 x 55 inches)
There are themes that recur in my work and often remain as vital challenges for me. Although many result in individual self-contained individual statements, I welcome it when I find a subject that invites a multitude of solutions. While I am at concerned with a series there is a helpful sense of direction, with puzzle solving challenges that keep me energized. Examining the range of exploration can result in a comprehensive overview.
Over the years I have used as subjects the images of chairs, single and groups. I have a pinnacle series, and there are those with still life references and some groups have figures and faces, puppeteers and puppets. A large group of recent work relates to 'T' shape of the kimono. Subjects that are suitable for a series attract me because the shapes are genetic and refer to highly familiar items, known to a broad range of people and can be recognizable within many variations and adaptations. (right: Two Vessels on Yellow, acrylic on canvas, 2003, 32 x 56 inches)
Whether they are presented subtly or boldly, small or large, fragile or monumental, I want my images to be visually exciting, capable of engaging the eye and mind of the viewer and capable of making emotional demands.
Autumn 2003

Article by guest curator Charon Luebbers:




In still life painting, vessels often serve as containers of inanimate objects such as water, fruit or flowers. In portrait painting, visages convey life-emotions or "character" thought to be contained somewhere just under the surface of the painted face. Harold Garde's two monotypes "Vessel" and "Visage", perhaps more clearly than any other images in the exhibition, embody the notion of container/contained that is at the core of the painter's recent works. The monotype, "Vessel", with its emphasis on volume and form delineated by a deceptively simple gesture drawing-black on white background, of the familiar-to-all generic cup, womb, chalice, grail-approaches the abstract while "Visage", with its more sensitively render contour drawing, is loaded with dark emotion -- a maternal face, primal gestalt -- that speaks to the radical expressionist aspect of Garde's early influence, the pervasive 20th century abstract expressionist movement.

Garde abandoned concentration on purely abstract, nonrepresentational painting back in the early 80's, having come to realize that the painter in the act of painting and the viewer in the act of witnessing the painting, are inevitably caught up in searching for some semblance of reality, some reference point for meaning, or even narrative in the work that is called "art". In clouds there are suggestions of dogs and roosters, in the crazed lines of plaster walls there are rivers and mountains. As Rorschach would have it, in ink blots there are cigars which at times are more than just cigars! Garde applies acrylic pigment to canvas or glass, filling the entire surface with lines and color, then takes away and/or paints over the extraneous or wanting. In this way, Garde develops what is necessary in order to achieve a (self) satisfying resolution to each painting -- one that fools the eye only in sense of making the viewer believe it was easy, fresh, the result of almost childlike spontaneity. Rather than fighting against his tendency toward representational painting, Garde surrenders to the recognizable objects that float to the surface of his canvases-painting them in instead of wiping them out. Ultimately, Garde seeks to achieve a resolution that communicates authenticity, individuality. He does so in the hope that this individuality, this mark made, will have universal resonance.

Garde likes to work in series, seeking to explore exhaustively a particular subject matter-chairs, figures, faces, kimonos and now most recently, vessels -- over time and across media or platforms including direct acrylic painting on canvas and paper, monotype and his own innovation, a hybrid between painting and monotype that he calls "strappo". This latter method of working involves reverse painting on glass, building up a thick film of dried paint that is then transferred to another support such as paper, wood, canvas or metal. All three ways of working-direct painting, monotype and strappo were selected for inclusion in this exhibition.

While Garde chronicles the breadth and depth of the human condition, depicting charged emotions and psychological tensions through his visages, he explores somewhat more meditative states through his vessels. Garde's visages are far more emotion laden than his more elegant, simplified-to the-point of-abstraction, vessels. "Vessels 3", "Keep 4 Vessels" and ''Alone'' serve to counterbalance the energy of such works as "Omementos" and "Eck Oh".

Often, as in "RE Peat" and "Generation", Garde has more than one face within a single canvas positioned in relation or opposition to another face heightening the sense of psychodrama so prominent in much of his work. These characters that populate Garde's canvases are seemingly ordinary folk with extraordinary expressions conveying an intimacy and immediacy that seduces the sometimes unwitting viewer to project his own story, his own history and personal experience onto Garde's canvas. Each of Garde's faces reveals an individual whose countenance expresses clues as to the depth of character beneath the surface. Garde's visages share an oddly poetic quality of heightened emotion reflected in turmoil. In the poignant triptych, "Three Dog Night" and the near narrative "Omementos", Garde consciously eschews tranquility, opting instead to transmit disquieting tensions, distress signals, and raw explosiveness.

In several of the canvases selected for this exhibit, Garde paints both vessels and visages in relation, one to the other. In "Yellow Vase" and "Three Steps" Garde creates devotional, almost sacred space through subordinate placement of the Mao-like visage in the former and inclusion of overt sacred symbols -- haloed angel and chalice on pedestals -- in the latter. "Re Peat" and "Left Panel Triptych", with such clear separation in space between the vessels and the visages, transmit a feeling of isolation, bordering on alienation. "Omementos" and "Generation" both have an inserted srrappo visage positioned vertically above the vessels with the primary visage below, suggesting a separation not only in space, but also in time -- windows to cogent memories or ancestral genetic material. "Bottled Woman" is perhaps the most provocative, in some ways the most disturbing of the dual vessel / visage, container / contained canvases. A serene still life vase with flowers serves as background for the contorted visage of the woman in the foreground, whom it would seem, is less a genie popped out of the bottle than a woman scuffed into a much too confining container, her head a cork about to explode right out of the canvas.

Overall, Garde's vessels and visages are less about whether the cup is half full or half empty than about transcending the cup-in "Yellow with Vessels", the light, the paint, the content is spilling out of the mouth of the vessel and pouring onto the background of the painting itself. The container (despite its well defined dark line) does not contain; rather, the paint trespasses beyond the boundaries set forth. Garde is intentionally painting outside the lines, challenging his viewers to read the painting in such a way as to understand the process of image making itself, the painter's sequence of choices. Steeped in training, Garde's mind is flooded with formal painting ideas as he works -- how to make a line function as an object distinct from its background and in relation to particular colors in a resolved composition -- all the while engaging in a form of action painting that allows the viewer to realize that this is a painting and that as such, it does something that a photograph or a digital image cannot -- it drips, it bleeds. Instead of prettying it up by sharpening focus or cleaning up brush strokes, cropping images or clipping off canvas threads, Garde uses the errant paint drips and stray threads to mark the canvas as object and to reveal his process of applying paint as the work of art itself.

Not only is he innovative in his painting and printmaking, Garde is also remarkably prolific. A gallery or studio visit with Garde puts one in the mind of Nietzsche's description of Art coming not from a place of shortage, of lack, but rather from a place of abundance, of overflow. The vessels and visages in this exhibition are indeed full-co-bursting containers for Garde's exuberant effusion.

Charon Luebbers
Guest Curator
New Smyrna Beach

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