David Harley - Recent Works


Sheridan Palmer,

Imprint, Spring, 2001.




Form in the narrower sense is nothing more than the delineation


of one surface from another. This is the external description...


yet every form has inner content. Form is... the expression of


inner content. Kandinsky




David Harley has emerged in recent years as one the most computer-experienced


artists working in Melbourne. His extraordinary synthesis of the digital machine,


intuitive subjectivity and the creative impulse has produced works ranging from


great beauty to visually confronting optics. This contemporary affiliation of


computers and art has become an authorised medium, one which has developed a


new sub-intermediary world and one which is making technological and scientific


advances at such a rapid rate that keeping abreast of what is new is a major


commitment in itself . The digital field is so vast that in itself it invites a freedom of


approach and expression which has noticeably been embraced by the youth culture


as much as being seen at the doyen of deconstructive post modernism.


Whilst Harley sits at the vanguard of digital art in Australia, much of his imagery


remains consistent with his personalised ideology. From his body of Work, such as


the print Janacek to his more recent large scale work Divertimento, shown at the


RMIT Project space in 2000, Harley pursues the purity of form, a lyrical abstraction


which is identifiable as a primal reaction within an aesthetic concept, a concept that


has an inherent programme of choice. As David Harley has said the computer used


as a tool 'encourages speculative work because it defies finality which one is


conscious of in painting'. Indeed it is in the context of Harley's background as a


painter that we must place his digital prints for one feeds the other.


Harley's digital prints largely emanate from his concerns of painting, and he finds


tha4 he is unable to move away from painterly effects. As with his painting, Harley


uses music to mobilise his imaginative responses to form and colour, and thus it is


seen as a seminal component in the construction of his digital prints. Music


therefore becomes one of the agents that carries the metaphors for atmosphere


and the poetics of the work, but we must also consider that 'the genre demands


imaginative participation'. Indeed, the imaginative response is possibly more


important in Harley's case than a dialectical one. His 1999 digital print Parsifal and


his more recent Mauve and Blue Beard's Castle are fine examples of his more


elegiac and sensual pictorial compositions. They are metaphysical responses and


correlative forms to music, the virtual space and depth invite the eye beyond and


behind to become part of the ethereal mists or the ballooning fecundity of the


image. It is this romantic structuring of abstract space and form which puts Harley's


works among some of the most pleasurable and beautiful that I know. It is the


illusory factor, the extraordinary colour relationships which cohabit with the virtual


dimension that suggests a potentiality that is hard to achieve with other more


traditional mediums.


Harley acknowledges the early modernist painters such as Kandinsky and Klee,


whose work he considers rigorous and universalist. Both artists created a whole


new language and their concern for composition placed them as 'innovators of the


gestural and the expansive pictorial plane'. His interest in the German


Expressionists and particular artists from Der Blaue Reiter group helped Harley to


understand the vibrancy of polyphonic presence in colour and art. The parallelism


of music, form and colour is consciousness merging, synthesising with his


subconscious, the computer providing the means by which these art forms attain


almost a unionistic whole. Qther important artists who have influenced Harley are


Cy Twombly, Helen Frankenthaler, Tony Tuckson and Len Crawford. Crawford,


who taught at RMIT, became an important reference and influence for Harley during


his student phase. Harley's empathy for Crawford's art is detected by a sensitivity


which marks both these artists' work.


In his more recent work such as Diversimento there is greater play with chaos,


which may indicate his desire for experimentation with the computer, pushing the


boundaries of the machine as much as his own creative parameter. Within this freeplay


experimentation there is clearly objective editing, with recession or protrusion


being determined by a greater use of black which operates both as the negative


shadow while also performing an autonomous and sculptural dimension. We see


Harley manipulating low resolution or pumping a shape to high resolution, the areas


of diffusion often intersected by fine hair lines, which create, as Harley says


'different spatial experiences in the presence of the work'. In his more notational


fugues, as with the collaborative Allegro Maestoso series of prints made with the


American artist/digital printmaker Tom Ashe, we see a more decisive linear


structure and display of optical formalism, as well as being more considered in its sequential chromatism.


A line of variable direction, that traces no


contour, and delimits no form.


Deleuze and Guattari


The art of digital printmaking offers the artist a process of creating and editing that


is both infinite and reversible, thereby making this medium unique and retrievable at


all stages of its development. When Harley returns to his painting it is not a case of


replication of the digital medium but rather his interest in creating the fluid staining


and virtual marking of space. He takes the idea of the digital and transfers that idea


to canvas where the composition appears to merge within the structural concept


that he has been working with in the computer. This parallelism of working with two


mediums is challenging for he finds that many of his ideas are more achievable in


digital printmaking than in painting. The paradox of digital art is that it is both a


composite of 'finite modes' but also forms a train of infinite procession. Its ability to


decompose and recompose, randomly or selectively, adds to its duality. The postmodernist


machine has redefined art and has assisted in creating a neoabstraction.




Sheridan Palmer is a Melbourne writer and curator