14 January – 5 February 1994
Marcus Harvey’s large, brightly-coloured canvases, made active by broad sweeps of impasto paint, literally bear the mark of his hand. The impressions made in the thick surface of the paint scrape through the layers of colour and smear the different hues to create a highly agitated surface. Harvey’s paintings reference Action painting, the post-war movement that placed great importance on the traces of the artist’s physical presence in bringing the work into being.
Harvey titled his show ‘Snaps’, a reference to the source on which he based his subject matter: the ‘Readers’ Wives’ section of porn magazines. The extreme cropping of the subject in each image combines with a white border to form a reminder of the Polaroid pictures on which the paintings are based. This choice of format is key: as they do not require any processing, Polaroids are private and disposable. Harvey marks off areas of the painting to reveal drawings of an explicit nature, subsequently adding heavy black lines that are incised into the surface of the paint—the explicit imagery is momentarily camouflaged by a confusion of vivid, abstract colour. Harvey says the function of this template of crisp outlines is to, ‘give oneself boundaries, within which to dive in an orgiastic state.’
There is something unsettlingly childlike about the urgent exuberance with which the paint is applied in these images: the use of hands suggests an immediacy and references the physical pleasure of finger-painting. Harvey subverts the grand statements of Abstract Expressionism, and reveals something more explicitly libidinal. Exploring the commodification of sex in the realms of high art and pornography, he challenges us to differentiate between the two. In the process, the artist collapses the hierarchy between high art and low-life, a trait that recalls the strategies of Pop artists such as Roy Litchenstein and Andy Warhol.