Recent “Washington Color School” inspired works by Neil Harpe

For the past four decades my art work has centered on realistically rendered images: maritime subjects, boats, automobiles, airplanes, landscapes, and portraits of musicians. I have always loved doing representational art and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to create a convincingly rendered depiction of the natural world. Nevertheless, for the past several years I’ve felt the need to move in a different direction with my art. I sought diversion to recharge the creative batteries.

As a student at the Corcoran in the mid sixties, my Painting II  teacher was renowned Washington Color School artist Tom Downing.  Additionally, I was fortunate to be in Ed McGowin’s multi-media “New Media” class.  The Corcoran was an exciting environment for budding artists. Studying there was like being at the center of contemporary American art at the time.  It was common to sit and have coffee with Gene Davis in the lunch room or perhaps walk past a visiting artistic luminary during the course of a normal day.

Like many of my classmates, many of my paintings back then were abstract.  On the other hand, having studied drawing with realist Frank Wright, my printmaking images tended to be representational, reflecting my love of drawing.  As they say: “printmaking is a draughtsman’s medium”.  As time marched forward, my work moved more towards photorealism with an occasional foray into surrealist imagery. 

In the summer of 2011 I visited the Washington Color School Exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery which brought back many fond memories of those “Glory Days” of the 1960s. Ever since seeing this exhibition I felt an urge to experiment with pure color. So for the past several years I have done a series of Color School inspired hard-edge acrylic paintings. I have thoroughly enjoyed the artistic freedom being unrestricted by choice of subject matter and instead simply dealing with shape and color.

Neil Harpe