The University of Northampton recently played host to a number of high profile visiting speakers as part of ‘Subject Futures Week 2014’. The School of the Arts used this week to give students a chance to hear from important contemporary artists, as well as the school putting on a number of workshops for students to learn new skills that could influence their various projects.
One of these artists was Marcus Harvey, famed for his role within the YBA movement and the controversial painting of Myra Hindley. These two claims about Harvey’s career seem to be the two key factors used to describe his work but hearing him talk about his work, his career and his life as an artist the YBA fame and headline grabbing Hindley painting seem to be almost irrelevant.
Marcus Harvey, like many of the Subject Futures Week speakers, started his talk with his very early work. In this work Harvey began to treat ‘paintings’ as objects, and so was able to deal with the more formal aspects of the object-like nature of a painting primarily its three-dimensional qualities. This in turn freed Harvey to attach objects to the canvas surface, and allowed him to explore the notion of two and a half dimensions within the realm of painting. This work moved forward and Harvey began to include a theatrical element within the work, opening up the possibility that the act of painting could be considered performance in its own right. The process of painting is then translated by Harvey into the realm of sculpture in his most recent works whereby he carves humorous portraits of famous people often using techniques of material manipulation learnt from years of painting.
This body of work seems to have a great deal more relevance to contemporary art than his involvement with the YBA’s or his controversial painting. This body of work seems to, on a greater or lesser extent, explore the limitations of painting; his paintings can be seen as paintings and sculptures as well as performances, and his sculptures can be seen as both sculptures and paintings. With Harvey’s work you can never fully define the discipline that a piece has been made within which I find much more interesting, and much more important to contemporary art, than his fame or his controversy.