Keith Harder has one philosophy for painting. For that matter, it seems to be his philosophy of life. It’s actually the same philosophy that he hopes people will take when viewing his paintings too.
“Pay attention,” he states, repeating the mantra several times in different forms throughout the interview. Even his website (at www.augustana.ca/~hardk) is entitled Paying Attention.
“Meaning has always been the way to go for me,” he emphasizes. “I’ve always been very involved in all the investigations I do. The hermeneutics of it are all that really matters as far as I’m concerned.”
If you don’t pay attention, then you’re likely to miss a lot of the detail that he puts into his highly realistic works. It would be a disservice to call them photorealistic, but you can’t deny his devotion to the wonder and beauty of Old World scenes like rustic Languedoc in the south of France.
“This is an extension of another investigation I did about the meaning of place and the meaning of landscape, but I did that in Alberta,” he said, referring to his Under the Weather series that was shown as part of a group show in 2004.
Those works examined the modes of production in Alberta’s rural economies as they pertain to the landscape, or, as Harder described it, “a metaphor for what it means to make a living and have a life under those kinds of conditions.”
Under Cultivation marks Harder’s first appearance back at the Art Gallery of St. Albert since then. This time he takes his former metaphor and exchanges Alberta’s big sky country, Rocky Mountains and prairie plains for France’s agricultural valleys with their rolling hills, estate houses and vineyards.
“This took that investigation to a completely foreign, by definition, but a strange landscape – strange to me – and I was the stranger in the landscape,” he explained.
The artist makes a large point about a person’s or even a people’s connection to the land. The longstanding art teacher at the University of Alberta’s Augustana campus in Camrose doesn’t just paint. He also delves into sculpture, photography, sketches (some of which are also in this show) and land art.
A few years ago he took a dozen former Second World War airplanes and created a permanent art installation of a compass rose in a farm field south of Calgary.
The kind of realism that Harder presents here is more than enough to encourage travel. These numerous French panoramas in oil are lovingly and even indulgently rendered with texture, rich colour and the dimension of feeling.
Is it possible to feel nostalgic for a place that you don’t even know? Can you really understand what it’s like to live in these locations after having seen them painted? Harder tempts the viewer with these propositions.
“I think the sad thing about a lot of landscape painting is that it’s done superficially: it’s done for its prettiness or it’s done for its scenery. I think that really skates lightly over the surface of meaning. I hope that when I take on a landscape painting, it ends up having much more for the viewer than simply scenery,” he said.
In the end, it seems that his hope is for his viewers and art enthusiasts in general to not be dissuaded from future landscape shows simply because of the glut of landscape paintings that are simply pretty pictures and nothing more. Those, he ponders, do more harm to our identity and to the value of art than anything.
“I do think that we can get immune to the meaning of a place by consuming it esthetically,” he said.
Paintings and sketches by Keith Harder
Show runs from Thursday, Nov. 1 to Saturday, Dec. 1
Opening reception tomorrow from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Art Gallery of St. Albert
19 Perron Street
Phone 780-460-4310 or visit www.artgalleryofstalbert.com for more information.