Hill Smith Art Gallery, Pirie Street, Adelaide
Gallery hours: during the Adelaide Festival, Mon – Fri 10.00 – 5.30pm, Sun 2 – 5pm
One has often heard the phrase “a painter’s painter” and Nicholas Harding can well be described in that manner. He won the Archibald Prize in 2001 for his portrait of John Bell as King Lear. Harding has been a regular exhibitor in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes and the Doug Moran Portrait Prize. The exhibition now on show at Hill Smith Gallery is his first Adelaide solo show. He was born in London, migrating to Australia with his family at a young age, and now lives in Sydney, where he exhibits regularly.
He is a self-taught artist, with a background in animation, but he craved for the tactile experience and freedom of working in paint. His subjects are mainly people relaxing on the beach. His strength is noticeable in his composition, the juxtaposition of light and dark and the application of paint. Harding creates depth by applying small spaces of colour in the background and contrasts them with larger bold strokes depicting a figure sitting, lying or walking in the landscape.
His work continues in the Impressionist tradition, particularly reminiscent of ‘Holiday at Mentone’, 1888, by Charles Conder, who depicted the essence of the Australian light. Harding continues with the same essence, but a bolder application of paint creates a sparkle, with light ‘dancing’ and shimmering as if reflecting the movement of water. Harding’s contemporary way of handling the paint produces a surface that one is tempted to touch. Visitors an be seen wishing to caress the luscious paint as they turn around to see if anyone is watching.
At the artist talk, on the morning of the opening, Harding spoke about not being interested in creating a likeness of the subject, but to capture the figure with the surroundings in an uninhibited state. He listed Degas, and Monet as inspirations, for their strong depiction of the figure. In Swamp Oak Shade (white hat and towel), 2009, oil on Belgian linen, one can see his astute choice of colours combined with the brokenness of the application of form. One can see the shadows of the oak tree on the body.
There is a video playing at the exhibition in which Harding demonstrates his technique using the palette knife. Also available at the gallery is a survey book of the last 25 years of Harding’s work.
Reviewed by Glam Adelaide Visual Arts Critic, Gina De Pieri Salvi.