At a Summer Exhibition in the Royal Academy over 15 years ago I spotted a small to mid-size painting whose somewhat surreal imagery of jungle-like dense floral interlacing strangely stood out amongst the hundreds of art works crowding the walls in the usual Petersburgh hanging. Andy was with another gallery back then, but I kept going back to the studio fascinated by the variety of styles ranging from photorealistic to gestural and the simply mind-blowing technique and confidence in execution. That fascination prevails until today and it seems as if Andy can now switch back and forth between the styles and techniques with an even more impressive ease and versatility.
Andy Harper’s work is drawn by an almost overwhelming abundance of resources. To engage with his paintings means to enter a whole new world on its own terms. References from botany, flora, Victorian and primordial motifs as well as powerful colours and abstract arrangements stimulate our senses and imagination. A lot of the early painted surfaces resembling various forms of vegetation were inspired by J. G. Ballard’s 1962 science fiction novel The Drowned World. The story, which portrays a post-apocalyptic and unrecognizable London submerged by tropical temperatures, flooding and accelerated evolution formed the genesis for a constantly returning theme in the artist’s oeuvre.
Harper in fact is a brilliant craftsman who developed his painting skills to perfection. His compositions are full of detail, precisely executed brush strokes, versatile marks and gimmicks, but they never solely remain technical. The driving mechanism in his work is the play with movement, colour, depth, and particularly light and shade. From his early photo-realistic “grass paintings” to the “vegetation” paintings, up to the more recent series of more geometrical and abstract works such as the “radial symmetry” and “mirror” pieces, the process of painting remains similar.
In his small format oils on paper, Harper’s characteristically quick and fluid way of working shifts to a new set of simplified forms and motives, also integrating text and imagery from pop culture. Still based on a membrane of oily paint that is wet and totally malleable, his arrangements are now much looser in appearance, the associations much freer. Significant is also the change in Harper’s colour palette. The revival of 1980s neon mixed with cheerful 50s colours is clearly different from the gothic visceral tones, which dominated his early palette. In some new works Harper goes even further by provoking a moment of chance when introducing spray paint and varnish - materials, which he allows to leave marks and even trickle off the surface. And yet, a moment of obsession and perfection is still perceptible, and it is this contradiction of experimenting with different techniques and visual references, which makes his work so interesting and full of tension.
Andy Harper has exhibited extensively throughout Asia, Europe and the United States.
Exhibitions at the gallery:
Plastic Fox, 2018 (solo exhibition)
Soft Errors, 2016 (two-person show with Kate Terry)
This is not a fairly-tale, 2008 (group show with Kate MccGwire, Dale Berning, Yuila Lanina and Franziska von Stenglin)