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BURSTING BENEATH THE SURFACE

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Publication: Journal Santa Fe Section; Date: Apr 15, 2011; Section: Gallery Guide; Page: S8

BURSTING BENEATH THE SURFACE Kay Harvey exhibition finally shows scope of her work Art Issues MALIN WILSON-POWELL For the Journal

Kay Harvey’s current exhibition of 66 paintings and works-on-paper spanning more than two decades is a revelation. For devotees of painting, this show is an ideal encounter, for it has been subtly selected and installed to emphasize the fullness and freshness of Harvey’s skillful and exuberant explorations. Twenty-seven works are on view at the domesticallyscaled 222 Shelby Street Gallery space, and 39 are hung at the gallery’s more contemporary whitecube 333 Montezuma annex. Although Harvey has had a number of small solo exhibitions in Santa Fe since 1980, as well as showing work in many group shows, until this exhibition the scope and grandeur of her enterprise were unknown. Beginning in the 1980s, all manner of disparate postmodern art practices positioned painting as the antithesis of everything current and cutting edge. Not only was painting suspect, gestural abstract painting was the most suspect of all. Harvey — and, one suspects, many other fine painters — has largely kept to their studios and worked during this era of postmodern distortion. In 2008, Kay Harvey had a small, haunting exhibition of lovely, cool, understated monoprints titled “Icebergs” at the gallery. Like icebergs that typically reveal only one-ninth of their whole above the surface of the water, this exhibition reveals what has been hidden. Obviously there is a cache of magisterial work in the artist’s studio that has not seen the light of day for decades. Harvey’s retrospective is aptly titled “Capriccio,” the Italian word for caprice or whimsy, predominately a musical term for an instrumental composition with an improvisatory style and a free form. She is a process-oriented improvisatory artist who works in series that she says are “unplanned … until there is no more energy” for her to express. Going with the energy of the process is paramount to Harvey, and her absorption leads her to a seemingly infinite variety of ways paint can be applied: thickly slathered, poured, thinly flung, splattered, dry brushed, finger painting, wet-inwet, scumbled, etc., etc. There are geometric grids, sinuous impasto lines, crashing cascades, luminous thin-as-a-breath atmospheres, desiccated craquelure, little flicks of drawing, clumps of dried paint. Harvey’s paintings, however, offer much more than a visual encyclopedia of painting techniques; they are dynamic, fierce in their inquiry, solemn, and wholly honest. In 2006, after decades of openended exploration and learning by doing, Harvey wrote that her main subject has been “structure and chaos and the relationship between them.” Her paintings masterfully embrace opposing forces in a mutually enhancing tension. Her honesty is unsentimental and humbling, true to the irreducible pleasures of painting. On first approach, Harvey’s work bring to mind the haunting paintings of Danish artist and poet Per Kirkeby, who is often a captive to the category of Neo-Expressionist nature painting. Harvey colors are more sun-struck than the deep forest tonalities of the Scandinavian Kirkeby. As with Kirkeby, who is regularly accused of romanticism, Harvey’s paintings have a deep emotional resonance, but both artists are uncompromising. There are two emotional poles around which Harvey’s work cluster — fresh, buoyant, radiant flashes of discovery and brooding, somber encounters with darker forces. Harvey’s color is glowing and never muddy and reflects her ability to address a plethora of moods — whether the series is boisterous and exultant or soft and subtle. Her black-and-white series feature intense, velvety or sparkling textures and, often, alternating transparency and opacity. If you start at the 222 Shelby Street headquarters space, the majority of the works are from the 1990s. An avid printmaker, the indefatigably experimental Harvey saw the potential of materials found in print shops and used them to great effect in her paintings. Outstanding examples include a terrific 1992 series of small paintings on metal plates (used for printmaking) with an off-kilter splash of sparkly, granulated carborundum (a carbon silica abrasive). The dark glistening black sand has the ominous, spooky quality of a head bristling in dreamtime.

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BURSTING BENEATH THE SURFACE

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A pair of intense 1997 black-and-white Mylar pieces thoroughly explore working both sides of transparent sheets (40 by 25 inches) with inks, oils, sgraffito, sfumato, collaged torn paper and cardboard that create tremendously interesting motion, blockages, and shadows. The complexity and resolution are thoroughly engaging. Six works on handmade paper hung in a grid from “After India Diamond Series,” 1993-1995, are ablaze, and tilt early modernist right angles into shimmering, pulsing 45-degree lattices of saturated color. Two large “I Am Raw” paintings live up to their name; especially “I am Raw I” with a palette and immediacy that calls to mind Basquiat. The installation at the 333 Montezuma begins somberly by alternating two pieces each from two majestic black-andwhite series, the 1993 “Studies in Black and White” and the 2004 “After Africa” series. Harvey’s large “Elements 01” oil on canvas looks like Western impressionism on steroids, a Wagnerian sonnet of big staccato strokes in full bloom garden colors. Three large and vigorous canvasses from a 2003 “Pentimento” series are so well balanced they could easily be hung in any direction. Like the fully charged 2010 “Glissando” canvas, anyone fortunate enough to live with these works would have an entirely new painting to explore with each 90-degree turn. The gallery’s longest wall carries seven Mylar collages from 2007. Printed and painted pieces of Mylar are overlaid and interleaved. In this tonally subdued “Stencil Collage” sequence paint is scraped, coagulated, thinned, dripped, squeezed, smeared, and sprayed. Not to be missed is a 1998 “Untitled (Coppper and Screen) Mylar piece, along with three late-2000s largescale oil and carborundum paintings on metal sheets, in this case aluminum. An image arises of an artist so thoroughly engaged with the possibilities of her medium that she hadn’t looked at them since they were completed. Fortunately, curator John Mulvany sought out Harvey’s past work. Mulvany — a graduate of the University of New Mexico and now professor emeritus of Chicago’s Columbia College — returned to New Mexico after his retirement. This is the second solo painting exhibition Mulvany has curated of largely overlooked treasures (the first was a 2005 Enrique Montenegro homage in Albuquerque.) For painting enthusiasts, Harvey’s exhibition is a gift unveiled. Although postmodernism thought it left pure painterly pleasure behind, Kay Harvey’s masterful paintings confirm its vitality. If you go WHAT: “Capriccio: 1985-2010, Works by Kay Harvey” WHERE: 222 Shelby Street Gallery & 333 Montezuma Annex WHEN: Through May 7. HOURS: At 222 Shelby Street: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; at 333 Montezuma Annex, Thursday and Friday 10 a.m.-5p.m. CONTACT: 982-8889 or info@222shelbystreet.com

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BURSTING BENEATH THE SURFACE

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COURTESY PHOTO ABOVE: “Elements 01” is a large 2000 oil on linen by Kay Harvey.

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BURSTING BENEATH THE SURFACE

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BELOW: “I Am Raw” is a 1994 oil on canvas by Kay Harvey.

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BURSTING BENEATH THE SURFACE

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“Pentimento Series 15” is a 2003 oil on linen by Kay Harvey.

COURTESY PHOTO Kay Harvey created these two untitled mixed-media on Mylar pieces in 1997.

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Kay Harvey at 222 Shelby Street Gallery  

Review of Kay Harvey Capriccio: 1985-2010 exhibition at 222 Shelby Street Gallery

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