New York

Robert Harms

Klarfeld Perry Gallery

Robert Harms’ lyrical abstract paintings are almost embarassingly beautiful. His palette (cerulean, bright-white, orange-orange, ultraviolet, acid-yellow, primeval-green) suggests all the naive and concentrated joy of a child with a brand new watercolor set. Harms creates his abstractions from nature: the landscapes of the Hamptons have quite clearly inspired each vision. The titles (Under the Trees, 1991, A Pond in the Woods, 1990) straightforwardly attest to this. Judged on palette or inspiration, then, the work seems far from fashionable and unlikely to surprise. It would seem to lack the sophistication of one who keeps his eye on the latest news.

Good paintings, however, make their own rules, and these are good paintings. Fairfield Porter, Edward Hopper, and Wolf Kahn proved themselves not in their relationship to culture, but apart from it, in their own isolated worlds. So too with Harms. His paintings owe an enormous debt to Joan Mitchell, for whom he worked, and their splashiness as well as their preoccupation with flowers and bright summer sky, make them seem strangely pretty. Is this really, one wonders, what a young man feels compelled to paint? Or is it simply a series of techniques gleaned from a mentor and put to good use by one yet to find his own way of saying things in paint?

The odd thing about posing such a question is that it has so little to do with the paintings themselves, which are both eloquent and sincere in all they attempt. They are lyrical abstractions of the Long Island landscape—dazzling feats of color and brushwork. Standing in front of them, one begins to feel giddy; the work settles over you, fresh and charming, but eventually it’s almost hallucinatory. At first glance its prettiness beguiles, but soon it’s a lot more than pretty. Smart, possibly, or magical, but certainly more than pretty.

Like many artists who work with landscape, Harms isn’t presenting his viewers with a revolutionary way of seeing. Rather, he gives us eloquently formulated mood pieces that entertain and inspire by the pure sensual delight they provoke. In the end, his vision is at once as far from mainstream contemporary art as a seaside resort is from downtown Manhattan; pausing before one, the viewer can’t help feeling invigorated and refreshed.

Justin Spring