Locks Gallery is pleased to present Ellen Harvey’s monumental Metal Painting (see the original brochure here) along with recent related bodies of work that invert and re-contextualize the traditionally hierarchical relationship between the fine and decorative arts, between the celebrated artist and the artisan laboring in obscurity.
Metal Painting (2015) is a multi-part oil painting comprised of 826 individual “portraits” of all of the wrought iron pieces at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Originally commissioned by and exhibited at the Barnes Foundation, Metal Painting was created in direct response to the defining idiosyncrasies of the institution—specifically Albert C. Barnes’ insistence that his particular installation of his collection be maintained unchanged in perpetuity, and, his decision to hang his paintings alongside his vast collection of hand-forged metal objects which he considered to be of equal artistic value.
By recasting the functional metal objects as paintings, Harvey’s Metal Painting challenges the viewer to consider them as purely artistic objects. Reduced to silhouettes on a smooth white background, the wrought iron objects of the pre-industrial craft tradition reveal a surprisingly modernist aesthetic. The heavy impasto of the dark silhouettes vary from panel to panel so that they reference the handmade imperfections of the metal objects themselves. Unlike the fixed installation at the Barnes, Metal Painting is different each time it is exhibited and the panels are installed touching one another so that the installation creates one large “painting”. Because the individual panels have magnets inserted into their back and are hung over steel plates, Metal Painting explicitly encourages the rearrangement of its components. As a whole, the multi-part piece transforms the work of anonymous craftspeople into a collective painting that can be read as a direct challenge to the individualist art canon.
Additional works on view include Harvey’s on-going Crack/Craquelure series which similarly inverts the traditional hierarchy of value, privileging the accidental effect of time on the painted surface over the intentional marks of the artist. Based on the crack patterns of old paintings, the Crack/Craquelure series explores the idea that the surface of painting has a distinct life and history of its own. Few Old Masters paintings today can be seen as they might have been at the time of their making—changes in surface texture and subsequent darkening or tonal shifts often make these masterpieces of bygone eras appear coated in a patina full of imperfections. By focusing solely on the visual effects of age, these works create an uncanny doubling effect where the paint of the painting is both subject and object and where time is both present and absent.
The Rorschach Ornament series and Double Forest both result from Harvey’s ongoing collaboration with the American Wood Column Corporation, a small workshop in Brooklyn that produces hand-molded pressed wood ornaments. Ironically, these ornaments, which were originally intended to provide a cheaper alternative to carved ornamentation, are now in turn part of a vanishing craft tradition themselves. Harvey has been producing a variety of works that use these ornaments to interrogate the liminal spaces between art, craft and industry. In the case of Double Forest, Harvey inserts actual neoclassical leaf-inspired pressed wood ornaments onto a painting of a forest to create competing systems of representation. For the Rorschach Ornament paintings, Harvey creates silhouettes of the ornaments and then doubles them in imitation of the famous Rorschach blot tests challenging the viewer to provide their meaning.
In 2021, Harvey’s mid-career retrospective The Tourist: Ellen Harvey will be traveling to Turner Contemporary, UK, and the Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria. Her site-specific installation Mirror has been acquired by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) where it will be reinstalled in a new configuration from November 19, 2020 until April 11, 2021 as part of the exhibition, Taking Space: Contemporary Women Artists and the Politics of Scale.
The gallery is open by appointment only. To view the exhibition, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment. Masks will be provided, if needed, and must be worn for the duration of the visit.