Kevin Harman opens the 2021 exhibition programme at Ingleby Gallery, postponed from last spring. The works have been hanging on the Gallery walls throughout lockdown – an exhibition that remained unseen by many until it came online in February. Ingleby Gallery was permitted to open its doors again on 28th April, and with limited numbers and hand sanitiser in place, there is ample space for physical distancing under Covid-19 restrictions. There are seven works in total: six in the main gallery and one upstairs in the Feast Room.
This exhibition of works behind glass is a cohesively-themed series. Here we can explore the results of the artist using ‘waste’ materials to create monumental and meditative artworks. Making use of the unnoticed space between the glass layers, Harman splits open double-glazing window units that have been measured wrongly or cancelled. Then he applies household paint in a variety of chosen hues to cover both inside surfaces of each pane before sealing them back together again. The pots of paint used are discarded, mismatched mixes from local paint shops.
The results are large-scale abstract works reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism. The artworks blend the looseness of Monet and Turner with the transcendence of Rothko and a nod to the dreamscape frottage of Ernst.
Harman typically invites the viewer into his artworks. This exhibition is no different. Stand in front of each one and you’ll see whatever you’ll see. Part-natural, part-designed, each becomes a unique landscape to dive right into. You can’t be sure where the paint takes its own curious journey beneath the surface, or where he’s tilted and teased it along. There are seascapes with bleeds, whirls and splashes, seaweed-like fingers – almost moving. There are acidic pastoral sunsets and tasty, tangy tones of citrus, blue and coral. These artworks must be seen in person to get the most from them.
The titles provoke the imagination too, suggesting things as if some reverse luminous Rorschach test. Or is there something archetypal in the work that informs each title? The artworks are perfectly grouped for this exhibition and you can easily take them at surface value. But, hang around a while and let your subconscious emerge. Can I see a school of fish, a trace of coral? Possibly. Is that a sunset? Perhaps. Feathers? Yes. Scattered lace, organic bobbling, acid clouds, traces of reptilian skin as if some sea creature has pressed up against the glass. The longer you stare at this aquarium of the imagination, the more you can see into this opaque world beneath the glass.
Harman enjoys challenging the assumptions made around established artistic methods and materials. He’s showing us the con-trick of the prestigious – a word which has its roots in the Latin word for a conjuring trick.
Although the artworks’ titles are poetic and enigmatic, the works themselves are weighty and monumental – the artist confirms that making them is physically demanding too. Yet they embody natural forms, unrecognisable from clumsy, industrial ‘waste’ materials. If you’re interested in sustainable art-making and experimenting with non-traditional material, viewing his exhibition is inspiring.
See a video walkthrough with the artist on the Ingleby Gallery website to get insight into how he makes the artworks. You can find out how they connect to Skips, another ongoing series, where he works overnight to temporarily transform a skip full of junk into a designed object of art. As with many of Harman’s artworks, the discarded has reassembled and returned as something fresh. Skip 17 (2020), the artwork to accompany this exhibition, was made nearby at Dundonald Street, from 3-4th April 2020, during lockdown.
Kevin Harman has a history of mischief-making in his art since his time at Edinburgh College of Art, often using discarded objects from his time working in a charity shop. He has also presented fake shop fronts and websites that are designed to provoke a reaction or discussion. His work playfully forces us to question deeply-held assumptions about subjects that are taboo or uncomfortable in society. He constantly invites us to challenge our own hypocrisy – especially surrounding institutes, authority, ownership, taste and moral judgement.
With grateful thanks to Julie Boyne for this review. See also Artmag’s original post, 17 Mar 2021.