Somewhat unsurprisingly the area around Piccadilly is not one of my usual haunts; the Ritz and the Wolseley being just a tad out of my price range, and even further out of my interest range. Being more of a Camden girl myself, were it not for the lure of David Harkins’ recent exhibition at Bury Street I may never have stepped past that territory of the super-rich, to discover that just beyond is hidden a veritable wealth of artworks, bustling for space in the innumerable galleries which line the back lanes.
I recently found myself squeezed amongst a lively throng inside a single element of this compound treasure trove; a beautifully intimate gallery at 3 Bury Street. Artist, actor, and probation officer, David Harkins’ work is an immediate delight to the inquisitive eye. In terms of physical scale his pieces are relatively small, and so when hung create an astounding aesthetic of contrasting and collaborating imagery spread across the wall like a huge, woven patchwork quilt. A tapestry of individual stories.
Indian Mathematics is instantly reminiscent of Miro, with its deep swirling blues which begin to swallow the splashes of colour above; seemingly dissolving before your eyes into the canvas. The titles add another dimension to the paintings, leading your senses towards a subconscious aspect you may not have explored; their playful suggestiveness mirroring the dreamlike theme running through pieces such as An Admission and Egyptian Headstand, where dominant forms and intricate paintwork create a weave of storytelling. A distinctive thread running through the series is the horizontal line. Drawing the eye across the canvas it moves toward the continuation of the story, past the boundaries of the surface. Within the abstract pieces this linear tool conjures landscape, providing spatial forms which determine a perspective focus for the viewer and work together with other patterns such as the mountainous triangular shapes in Crowns, or Emergency Ponchos.
Turning around the room and stretching to place my line of sight above the mass of heads at the opening night, I began to discern a sense of the time spent creating this series of works. A period of exploration seems to come across, of pushing the boundaries of experience and comfort. Indeed, speaking to a fellow observer I was told that David’s previous work is far more abstract. His use of figuration and narrative in this show mark a new period of experimentation where monochrome abounds and materials in collage writhe in and out of the 2D boundaries. However, although the meditative narrative may draw us through lighthearted stories, there are also explicit elements of darkness. The use of the black and white palette and mono-printing technique strips away the detail of other works and returns us to a raw, expressive language. Here the lines reappear, possibly suggesting the bars of a prison in a reference to David’s work as a probation officer. The figures which feature are also noticeably alone and sometimes with explicitly negative emotions, as in The Anxious Man, an astute capturing of melancholy tension.
David Harkin’s art seems to draw influence from a unique collaboration of various styles. A strong tribal element runs throughout; bold, powerful, colourful and symbolic, yet there are plenty of moments of quiet tenderness, delicately intertwined with the understated storytelling of a thinker, a seer. Humour abounds. Tongue-in-cheek motifs use the force of simple production and dark satirical undertones to create powerful impact in works such as A Saint in Wolf’s Clothing. I clearly wasn’t the only one to have been absorbed into David’s brushstrokes and collages. As the stickers flew on and the works flew off the walls, I thanked my lucky stars I had been quick enough to grab Crowns, my first (and undoubtedly favourite) Christmas present of 2012. Pressing my way through the crowd towards the exit, like Indiana Jones having acquired his fought-for treasures, I knew this would not be the last I saw of David Harkins. I think I can guarantee the same for you.
For more information on David’s work see his website here
Photographs by Alex Bamford