Nicole Harp’s solo exhibition, The Tension of Opposites, is an unexpected powerhouse; an evolution of abstract oils–the most recent of which are confident, inspired, and an outright deal.
I’LL ADMIT AT THE START that before I saw Nicole Harp‘s paintings in person, she had all strikes against her.
First of all we tend bar and serve together at Pasha Mezze in Ghent for our part-time jobs. Which is not to discount her talent; obviously, I work there whilst editing this brilliant website full-time. But when a co-worker slips you a postcard promoting her upcoming exhibition as you’re brewing a batch of sweet tea for the day, you don’t really expect something magnificent.
Secondly the show is at The Gallery at Towne Pavilion II–the first floor of a bank building at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Of course corporate offices, like hotels, purchase and hang serious artwork by known artists commonly enough. And I’ve seen art shows at much unlikelier venues; piano bars, tattoo parlors, skate shops. But I was doubly dubious.
And thirdly, when I checked out her website, I was not so impressed by the images; Kandinsky-esque abstracts tight with brushy x’s and o’s and circles and squares. Informed? Yes. Energetic? Definitely. Inspired? I just wasn’t so sure.
But if there’s one thing I learned from the art history books it’s never to trust what you’re looking at if it’s not there in front of your face. Consider it the Myspace effect–in sunglasses, rosy light and three-quarters profile, Suzy22 may look like a 10. But then there’s real life.
IN REAL LIFE HARP’S WORK IS POWERFUL. Present. Surprising, certainly. And surprisingly restrained. Not restrained in palette or texture, which are luminous and thick, but restrained in movement. And even restrained in message. (She’d rather bring to light issues that deserve the viewer’s own careful thought.) In person, Harp’s paintings stand straight up and speak to you.
“I could tell you weren’t really expecting to like it,” she said, when I admitted my misgivings. But she was never daunted. Because Harp is a woman who knows who she is, what she’s doing, and maybe even how good it is. Her work is in so many ways like her. Bold without being brazen, educated without being too self-aware, a combination of sharp directness with round fullness.
“Compassion,” she says, is the value that runs through all her work. Her early series, New York School Revisited–the same which I saw online–contemplates the questions of order and chaos in the universe, which inspired the show’s title, The Tension of Opposites. Those questions bleed easily into the series that followed, entitled American Way; red and white canvases both large and small, driven by the issue of war. Compassion is on her mind again in the series she’s currently working out in her mind, which speaks to the politics of animal rights. She is seeing images of the fence between Mexico and the US and thinking about the disruption of the natural ecosystem.