Harmony of Opposites

Kohn Pedersen Fox Gallery New York 1991

Catalogue Introduction by Eugene Kohn

 

While in London several months ago, I joined Guy Thompson of Contemporary English Prints to visit the studio of a young and very talented painter. After a rather long but pleasant drive, we arrived at Islington, navigated a zig-zag course through a residential neighbourhood and arrived at what looked to be a large and empty building opposite a school playing field. This structure was a rather typical London studio building, built around 1906-07 with its narrow face to the street and its long dimension extending to the back of the lot. On closer examination of the building I saw the first floor was occupied by what appeared to be a small, family owned dress manufacturing business. Guy and I proceeded through a large iron gate and walked down a narrow alley. We climbed a flight of stairs and were greeted by Vanda Harvey who stood before the door to her apartment/studio.

Up to this point my day had been without distinction. Lulled by various shades of grey and brown, I was all the more stunned by the color that greeted me when Vanda led us through her apartment to her studio. The loft was spacious with high ceilings and large, north-facing windows. The space exuded movement and energy. Hung from the walls and stacked against the furniture, the canvasses, in various stages of completion, filled the space with their size and vibrancy.

As Vanda led me through her studio, I felt persuaded by her creative excitement, a sensation I experience when a designer presents an inspired project brilliantly developed. I was immediately seduced by each piece. Pausing at one canvas after another, Vanda enthusiastically described the processes of her painting, the artists who influence her and the places she had visited. Each line, each movement and each shade of color held great meaning and excitement for her.

The broad, bold strokes of her brush were distinct from well across the room. Brilliant and rich, the colors of her paintings at once blend and intercept. Like fragmented Chinese characters, superimposed black streaks slice through the centre of canvasses. In one painting the shape is literally that of a scythe. In another I see a hieroglyph or a cipher. Like the exaggerated gestures of Hofmann and Pollock and the hovering colors of Rothko, Vanda’s expression defies facile interpretation; she chooses instead to explore the interplay of colors, of borders and of background and foreground. Vanda repeatedly juxtaposes black on color, mixes signs with images, graphics with painting and constantly challenges the viewer to delineate boundaries. There is a distinctly original and subversive aspect to her use of black symbols on primary colors; the repetition is methodical, as though she were laying foundations, reciting one letter at a time the alphabet of a new language. Through this repetition she integrates the paintings individually and links them in a coherent series.

Not surprisingly, Vanda speaks forcefully; her language is full of energy and conviction. At length and with passion she expounded on those who have influenced her: de Kooning, Motherwell, Hofmaann and others. Equally strongly did she criticize the dearth of Abstract Expressionists in British exhibitions. She is astonished by the complete absence of Diebenkorn’s works in London art museums.

Vanda Harvey has spent a considerable amount of time travelling in the United States. I see reflected in her paintings a scale and expansiveness that is familiar to the American sensibility. I am powerfully affected by this sensibility, by the depth and richness of the colors she employs, by the intelligence and integrity of her journey. I hope that by way of this introduction to Vanda Harvey in the Art Gallery of Kohn Pedersen Fox, you will share the excitement I felt when, on that grey day, I first entered her London studio.

 

Eugene Kohn
Kohn Pedersen Fox
February 1991