Artist Interview: Cameron Harvey

Today we're sharing a conversation with artist Cameron Harvey. Cameron Harvey is an artist currently living and working in Chicago. She graduated cum laude from Wellesley College in 1999 with a BA in Studio Art and moved to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating from the Post Baccalaureate Program in Painting in 2007. Cameron’s work is playful and generous and continues to be fueled by a desire to explore color and materials. She believes in the importance of cultural exchange and has participated in programs and residencies including: The School for International Training (Cameroun), The Lijiang Studio (China), and The Vermont Studio Center. A former BOLT resident, Harvey has exhibited work in Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, New York, India, Italy, and China. She has received grants from the City of Chicago as well as the Illinois Arts Council Agency and the Alice C. Cole Alumnae Fund. Cameron’s work is currently on display as part of Rebuilding the Present, Curated by Holly Cahill.

Rebuilding the Present is on view at Weinberg/Newton Gallery from January 18 –  April 13th 2019.

Weinberg Newton Gallery: Your Untitled, large scale, airbrush paintings on voile are hung off the wall and in a staggered line that expands into the gallery as you approach the works.  These double-sided paintings are positioned at enough of a distance from one another, so that visitors can walk and weave paths between each painting. Due to the lightweight, unstretched quality of the fabric, they undulate when air is displaced as you move past them. Can you tell us about how you chose the scale, installation, and configuration of these works as well as your intention to make them responsive to movement?

Cameron Harvey: I think of each painting as a figure painting that represents the possible energetic qualities of a person. I imagine the energetic body to be larger and more expansive than the physical body so, the paintings are taller and wider than the average person. I have been thinking about the interconnectedness of existence and how there are no solid forms, no boundaries between you and me, the chair and the wall, only atoms and molecules in constant motion and exchange with one another that make up what we, incorrectly, perceive to be solid, individual objects. Therefore, I wanted to make paintings that addressed ideas of visual perception and how what we see may not  in fact be what is real, as well as ideas of motion, flow and interconnectedness.

I decided to install the paintings in a free-hanging way, as opposed to up against a wall like traditional works, so that they could be understood as both individual works and as parts of a whole, and so that the viewer could walk between the works to activate the installation and see both sides of the paintings. I chose not to anchor the bottoms of the fabric too tightly so that the paintings would move with the presence of the viewer. The idea of a diagonal line came about as it worked within the confines of the gallery space and allowed the paintings to peak-out behind one another so the imagery could overlap and the paintings could interact with one another in a visual way. It is intended that the viewer activate the paintings by looking at the imagery and attempting to perceive what marks are really there among the movement of the moire pattern, as well as allowing their own presence to be part of the visual and physical exchange, contributing both to the composition and to the movement of the installation.

WNG: Your interests span the cosmic and the cellular, our internal and external states, liberation and confinement, what is real and perceived, among others.  The imagery in your paintings is not grounded in place, but rather depicts colorful, immersive, energetic fields in which interconnected complex forms emerge and dissolve.  However, when you move closely to examine them, a moire pattern disrupts the surface of the painting, making the image difficult to discern. How do you think about and develop the activity within these paintings?  What does the interference of the moire pattern symbolize for you?

CH: I think of the moire pattern as something that disrupts the marks and colors of the painting and which makes it difficult to understand where the marks reside, where they are coming from and how they are made. This is important to me because I am interested in creating a sort of ethereal mark that is not entirely there, or not fixed in space, to support my idea of creating bodiless forms and representing a sort of energy. The pattern also contributes a strong element of movement. Through the moire pattern, the paintings are in constant flux and therefore each person who views them has their own experience, and each experience is different depending on the light, the time of day, how many people are in the installation etc. It is important to me that the paintings interact with the viewer, that they do something, that they don’t just represent an idea, but somehow they are the idea. Through the movement, there is an element of impermanence, like the paintings can not be seen or captured, or made to be fixed or stil. Impermanence is one of the only guarantees in life, change is certain, nothing lasts forever and impermanence is about the fact that nothing is ever made up of the same particles, but that we are always in constant exchange with our environment.  I like how the moire pattern creates an energy flow within the painting. To me both of these elements illustrate the nature of being on a molecular level but also on a philosophical one as well. The moire pattern is strongest where the colors are the most dense so I need to plan accordingly when creating the images.

WNG: What I See with My Eyes Closed represents a dramatic shift in scale, material and form from your hanging paintings in the gallery.  In this small scale series on paper, you work to capture the fleeting afterimage we first see when closing our eyes.   Each drawing is detailed, yet fuzzy, involving a labor intensive process in the depiction of a transitional moment. These drawings require tremendous memory and focus on a brief experience at the edge of vision.  All of the drawings in this series are dated and you have compared these works to diary entries. Can you tell us about your process of making What I See with My Eyes Closed and what inspires you to capture these moments?

CH: The drawings are smaller and more portable than my paintings so I can work on them if I only have a few hours or if I am traveling, or want to be at home on the couch. They are also a collaboration with me and my physical environment where I don’t have to come up with the composition myself…but I can just close my eyes and try to remember the fleeting afterimage of the physical world and its light disappearing into a sort of vast inner space. Similar to my paintings they are made of layers of color and I think of them as representative of a certain place or time. I want to bring attention to moments of transition and attempt to capture the fleeting, which is impossible. I think of de Kooning and the ‘Slipping Glimpser’, he said, “You know, the real world, this so-called world, is just something you put up with like everybody else. I’m in my element when I’m a little bit out of this world: then I’m in the real world – I’m on the beam. Because when I’m falling, I’m doing alright. When I’m slipping, I say, ‘Hey, this is interesting.’ It’s when I’m standing upright that bothers me… As a matter of fact, I’m really slipping most of the time. I’m like a slipping glimpser.” I love that quote and how he addresses the journey of life and artmaking and how they are both slippery and it is hard to hold onto things to the point where letting go and being on the journey is the interesting part. I also feel like the act of making work for me helps me stay together while I am falling apart… and in some ways both my paintings and drawings are somehow disappearing or falling apart at the same time as they are coming together. It occurs to me that some people use the word transition to mean death, and I think, underneath it all, my work is about the relationship between the body and the Spirit and what happens when the objects on the physical plane disappear, about what is leftover. Fundamentally, my work is about death and what we are without the material world.

WNG: In addition to being an artist, you are also a yoga teacher.  Yoga is described as a moving meditation.   What drew you to learn and later teach yoga?   What is your meditation routine and how does it inform your artmaking practice or vice versa?

CH: I began practicing yoga because I was making poor decisions and wanted to know myself better, it was really about dealing with stress and anxiety and low self-esteem. Yoga helped me so much that I knew I wanted to know more about it and share it with others so that is when I decided to do the teacher training and get out into the community. I am getting older and have been working in restaurants for 13 years so I practice asana in the morning to maintain some flexibility, and to be able to walk without limping, and turn my head when driving. I generally meditate while I am having coffee in the morning for 15 min or so, checking the internal weather to see what I am dealing with on any given day. I try to just sit and see what comes up and be without judgement, and as a perfectionist that is one of my biggest challenges, to accept myself as I am. Meditation helps me to see my emotions and thoughts, to acknowledge them, and let them go. Meditation is also about death, going into the deep self that is not physical, it is about impermanence and the idea that everything changes, as well as the fact that I create my own reality through my attitude, thoughts and perceptions. Ideas relating to trying to discern what is real, and exploring how my own perception shapes my personal reality, are important to me and what I explore in my artistic practice as well. Sometimes I can’t see the forest through the trees, and meditation is a way to pause and take stock, take the aerial view. I think of my painting installation at Weinberg/Newton in a similar way, when you are in it, you are caught up in the micro-focus of the moire pattern and a sort of minutia that is always changing. I have realized through this experience that the installation creates a bit of instability, or maybe even anxiety as a result. But you can really only see the installation as a whole, in a more calm and stable way, if you step back out of the installation, out of the woods as it were.