There is a strong tendency in discussing art produced since World War II to attach or compare it to movements promoted in New York. And when I first viewed the paintings of Gus Harper, I immediately compared them to Georgia O’Keefe and Pop art.
Like O’Keefe, Harper has magnified the recognizable into an abstract form. O’Keefe in her best work finds geological landscapes in skulls and the folds of flowers. Hers is a desiccated view of the world, a reduction to the desert’s muted colors, sand-scoured forms. Harper’s oil paintings also find landscapes within natural objects but his reflect southern California’s abundance. The landscapes within his fruits and flowers are the frothing surf of the Pacific Ocean, the uplift of clouds hitting the mountains framing Los Angeles. The roses look starched and ready for the Rose Bowl parade. The minimalism implied by her compositions is the opposite of his use of a grid of small paintings to fill entire rooms.
Like Pop art, he has focused on ordinary objects, using repetition and the flattened quality of advertising as a means of structuring the panels. Marco Livingstone’s description of Oldenburg’s work also nicely fits Harper’s paintings, “Like the best of Pop, their effect is to awaken us to the strangeness of the ordinary, to present the most routine encumbrances of our daily lives as almost miraculous apparitions.”* Unlike Pop art, though, his is not a critique of capitalism or consumerism. His is not a detached view of the world. He has replaced irony with celebration.
The vibrant reds and yellows, the stylization of the roses in fact have more in common with the great muralists of Mexico than the sleek commentaries of New York Pop. Diego Rivera frequently commented that he wanted his art to improve the life of ordinary people. While certainly not a political activist like Rivera, Harper also wants to enhance life, wants to share his ability “to get his juices going” with others and not just as viewers. His paintings like “Dynamic Gold and White Rose Grid” are deliberately created in panels which the collector can rearrange, infusing a sense of play.
The artist states it clearly: “I think how we view the world impacts everything around us. My goal is to share the spectacular in the everyday. The simple, direct approach often tells a profound story.”
Mery Lynn McCorkle
Directions to Studio:
By appointment, (310) 699-9509 or firstname.lastname@example.org
11306 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066