Harold Garde is one of the few true artists who are courageous, who make no concessions to prettiness or fashion, whose singleness of purpose inspires us all to tell more truth, to examine more deeply and honestly our own lives for what is personally and profoundly human. Garde is the real thing, an artist of passion, integrity and commitment, unafraid of failure, unable to compromise his vision. He personifies the artist archetype, believing totally in the personal and social necessity of art. He gives other artists courage. Robert Shetterly (abstracted from Harold Garde, An Appreciation, published in MOFA monograph: Harold Garde. Painting 50 years. Rob is a friend and colleague and author of Americans Who Speak the Truth published by Random House).
Harold Garde has said, “a painter paints.” From his first painting class with Vic D’aMico at the new MOMA in 1946 Garde has been a painter. In a career spanning 70 years of mastering his craft, Garde has gifted us with a rich and varied body of work from an authentic voice rooted in the rich soil of American humanism and European modernism that informed the New York experience of his youth.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s Garde’s work swung between pure abstraction and figuration. It was in the 1980s while painting primarily organic abstractions that Garde felt the need to break the rounded forms with which he was then working into cubes and more structured shapes. Through this need, the “Chair” series emerged. Garde was just completing this series when he moved to Maine.
The timing of his arrival in Belfast was opportune – Gallery 68 had just opened, specializing in graphic art, and one of Garde’s works was accepted for the gallery’s inaugural show. In the back room was a fine art press, which was made available for local artists’ use. Over the next several years, Garde produced hundreds of monotypes on the Gallery 68 press, relishing in the medium’s immediacy and experimental qualities. Works such as “Conversation” and those in “Pinnacle” series result from this time.
A large selection of Gallery 68 prints were featured in a one-person exhibit at Maine Coast Artists (now the Center For Maine Contemporary Art) in Rockport in 1998. Other selections from the series have been shown at the Farnsworth Museum of Art, Bates College Museum of Art, the University of Maine at Farmington and other venues throughout the state, affirming Garde’s reputation as a printmaker of note.
Ever the experimenter Garde discovered his latest medium, which he has termed “Strappo” by accident. Scraping clean the glass plate he uses as a palette, the artist became intrigued with the thick skin of acrylic paint lifted by his palette knife. The skin retained the texture and gesture of the paint, and yet its surface was slick and smooth. It is this contradiction which Garde loves to exploit in his Strappo works.
A cross between monotype and painting, the discovery of the Strappo technique gave Garde access to what he considers the best qualities of each, and it did not take him long to realize the rich potential of the medium. Soon he was incorporating Strappo rectangles into larger painted canvases where they add another layer of texture and association to the works.
In the mid 1990s while playing with the layout of a number of small Strappos, Garde chanced upon an arrangement that suggested a kimono shape. This seemingly simple composition of a central rectangle flanked by two smaller rectangular “sleeves” launched a large series of kimono inspired works which has expanded beyond Strappo to encompass a wide variety of media. The artist’s kimono series now numbers into the hundreds, and includes small, single image Strappos, larger composite Strappos, acrylic paintings on both paper and canvas, and a series of ceramic kimonos done in collaboration with ceramist Mark Kuzio.
A large exhibition of the kimono series was held at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine in 2001. Art historian, Gail Scott, writing in the exhibition catalog states, “Garde’s output of work is prolific, and he has an exceptionally fecund imagination – qualities that constantly breed new ideas as well as new revelations about established motifs… The fact that the kimono shape “appeared,” so to speak, to Harold Garde and evolved into the series is not surprising, since he’s especially attuned to images with human connection.” The Kimono series remains the artist’s largest devotion to an image; one which he continues to explore in a variety of media and scale.
Through both formal means and through imagery, Harold Garde creates layers of associations intended to prolong a viewer’s experience of his art. While much of his work of the last two decades, in particular the paintings, retain a narrative quality, the subject is deliberately left unclear. Garde rejects the notion of immediate identification with a work, preferring the viewer to discover and explore their own understanding of a piece. Juxtaposing often harsh color and seemingly disparate imagery, Garde jolts the viewer into psychological participation with the artist.Copyright 2008 by Suzette McAvoy – from the book, “Harold Garde – Painting in the Fullness of Time”