Gareth Stevens previews an exhibition of recent work by Rod Harman at The BlackShed Gallery

There are countless alumni artists from Hastings College who are indebted to Rod Harman, and every one of them will be able to tell you a story about him. The ones I have met always express their undying gratitude for his inspirational teaching and guidance.

Rod Harman
PICTURE: Julian Anderson

I spoke to Robert Sample who was a student of Rod’s and is himself a highly thought of painter working out of St Leonards. He tells me that Harman was an inveterate nurturer and a huge presence in his life… “He stood alongside me, understood my struggle and pushed me to be strident and confident,” he says. “He not only encouraged me to take risks and to deeply reflect on my motivations, but he modelled a raw passion and conviction that was rare in other tutors.” Harman’s teaching methods were unusual, novel and hard to predict. Sample recalls a day when he covered a life model in rashers of bacon in order to emphasise that we were “painting meat!!!”

Harman’s exhibition is overwhelming. Consider that this man has worked every day for the last fifty years to articulate his spiritual life through painting. He is compelled to paint in a way that others breathe. Intensely curious, he focuses on the interplay between the sacred and the profane and constantly states that they are interchangeable. He claims that his work is a way by which he can “speak to the dead,” and in amongst the sumptuous swirls of colour and frenetically applied marks there are ever-present echoes of loss. Such is Harman’s command of visual language that he can focus his intense emotions to seamlessly lament the loss of a dear friend, venerate Michelangelo, and celebrate rapturous joy all in one piece.

The BlackShed has commissioned a short film that will be showing alongside the paintings in the exhibition. It is called “A Day In New York” and was filmed by Richard Heslop and edited by Sam Sharples. The film complements the paintings so well, as it gives us an insight into the intensity of Harman’s thinking as he aimlessly wanders around the New York subway, city streets and the Museum of Natural History. His fervent talking is a heady cocktail of playfulness and profundity that immediately helps bring a peculiar clarity to the work. Beautiful cinematography and editing together with a spontaneous narration from Harman really convey the spirit of this big man and his longing to experience the divine.

• ‘Deep Skin’ can be seen at The BlackShed Gallery from 6th April until 18th May 2019.

• For more information visit www.theblackshedgallery.org.uk


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