Andrew Frost, Sydney 2002
One of the first things to be said about the work of David Harley is that it is attractive and seductive and has all the qualities that attracts and holds the eye. His use of colour is a notable component of that attraction, referencing the decorative while exploring the contemporary obsession with fields of subtlety differentiated form. As abstract pictures, Harley also has a talent for a balanced composition that distances the work from the minimalist impulse and engages with a style of image making that seems directly connected to painters like David Aspden or the early work of Howard Arkley.
While Harley’s painting engages with the history of abstraction, there is another level of interest surfacing within the work that may not seem particularly apparent. Trained as a painter and adept with the traditional approaches to picture making, Harley’s recent works have instead used computers to create their painterly effects. The backgrounds, the gestural marks and denser regions of colour have all been constructed using programs like PhotoShop.
While it’s true, a computer is simply a tool to translate gesture and intention into a virtual studio space and then into the real world via the printer, this approach creates a quotation of painting, a sort of parenthetical distancing from the actual art object. This strategy seems to suggest an experience of the works that is at one remove from the “genuine” or “unmediated” experience. But the convincing combination of technique and form in Harley’s work seems to defuse a purely calculated, classically post modernist approach.
Harley’s works flirt with the conceptual apparatus of making art – creating what the artist has called “autonomous imagery”. This idea of an autonomous picture, a self-replicating, independent source of visual information is a kind of artistic furphy. There is simply no such thing as a truly autonomous image, one created without the intervention of either the artist or the viewer. But in the work’s relationship to the antecedents of abstraction, the autonomy is coded into the surface of the surface of the work. Harley allows the pixelation effect - where the image breaks down into digital components to signal the process of creation. The relationship of the work to abstraction becomes a visual connection no more profound than any other, and its connection to painting is equally illusory. That the works can be enjoyed through their surface, colour and composition as well as the conceptual connotations of their creation make for a rich visua! and conceptual experience. And in the true spirit of the illusionist, Harley is as happy for the viewer to understand the process as he is to pull the rabbit out of the hat.