Nicholas Harding

Anyone who remembers being a child and studying the pictures on the cereal box, or finding the faces undulating in the cloud-clad sky, or who remembers where the lion is in the grid of facedown cards in the game of Memory; that person will recall the distinct, specific frisson one gets through deep recognition.

This unpeopled year has put pressure on our senses, separating the experience of life into two domains – the optical one, and the kinaesthetic, bodily one. Nicholas Harding’s new body of work ‘Landscapes
& Birds’ sees painterly line put to the service of the creation of a luminous atmosphere, obliging us to consider the relationship between the visceral and corporeal that one can experience when faced with the mood and palette of the distinctly South Australian landscape.

Harding speaks of arriving at Wilpena Pound (in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges) for the first time and experiencing a snap-like recognition; a direct connection to his visual pleasure centre. Like a moth to the flame, Harding gravitated to the dizzying light of this semi-arid Arcadia.

At first glance, Brachina Riverbed Light (2020) demands you to squint. The vividly energetic colours that structure it – that make it vibrate and visually expand – at once focus the eye on the framing edge, making it materialise as a threshold between painting and real life.

As van Gogh attempted to make painting operate in the same way as music or poetry, here Harding ‘paints the light and air of a landscape as much as its form and space.’ He continues, ‘when I’m painting, I hear the birds and insects, feel the breeze, smell its scent.’ For Harding, everything buzzing in symbiosis is key.

While intuition guides and emotions often rule Harding’s painterly process, the vitality of his painting comes from its firm foundations of his experiences of place. It brings to mind the most obvious but often overlooked thing about painting, which is the astounding number of decisions an artist must make. One of the greatest strengths of Harding’s work is that we are consistently inspirited in, and so loyally charmed by, the decisions he has made.

The longitudinal ooze of impasto onto linen cloth is just one of the traces of Harding’s process. In Banksia Black Cockatoo (2020), the marks of the vertical can dizzy you. The sentient cockatoo, spiritually poised, looking at the looker, prompts the viewer to recall the distinct frisson one gets through deep recognition; is that cockatoo looking at me?

The stuff of the physical world is what rules Nicholas Harding’s latest works. And what’s particularly thrilling in ‘Landscapes & Birds’ is Harding’s boldness – his eagerness to electrocute colour in such simultaneously striking and subtle ways, to alternate between the sort of figuration that causes an image to appear, and then vanish into matter at the very edge of our consciousness. 

This preview was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 52, 2020

EXHIBITION
Nicholas Harding: Landscapes & Birds
19 August – 12 September 2020
Olsen Gallery, Sydney

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