Fred Harper’s art has been hung in galleries and people’s living rooms from Istanbul to LA. His illustrated work has been in print all over the world. He collaborates with designers and visionaries for a range of projects including a mural for Classic Car Club Manhattan. His illustrations have been in magazines like New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, and on covers for The Week Magazine since ’01 to present. Make sure to check his gallery show out this week at MF Gallery, opening May 26th.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, car culture was…….. Growing up in the late 70’s early 80’s, Erie, PA reflected the movie “Cannon Ball Run”. Burt Reynolds and that Trans AM were every teenager’s dream as those movies came out about the time I was getting my driver’s license. My father worked several jobs besides being a public high school teacher. One of those jobs was a part-time mechanic. I would come home from school to a different car parked in our garage several times a week. I never drove anything with much more than a determined hamster under the hood. I drove a 2010 Mustang from the club back there one year and you would have thought I was Burt Reynolds in his heyday! Random people in parking lots, men and women knew more about that car than I did by just hearing the engine!
I gravitate towards open air cars, like the Shelby Cobra and the Caterham. To me, they’re…… a friendly drive! They are beautifully designed cars that expose you to pedestrians and fellow drivers as you drive through the city. I was driving the Caterman down Broadway around NYU and while at a red light I found myself talking to a bike messenger who had pulled alongside of me and was just blown away at how little but beautiful it was. This conversation lasted three reds. Traffic sucked that day but the folks checking out the car were all smiles and thumbs up.
My paintings are mechanical in nature….. and an acknowledgement to our connection to human made, be it an engine or a structure. We live in things someone else built, we drive things someone else made, and you look at paintings that someone else painted. There is this relation between the organic and the mechanical to visually explore. I try to make aesthetic choices that balance between the familiar and the abstract. Technology in the real world is trying to be more seamless and invisible as it pampers us and makes us more dependent. It becomes an extension of our eyes and ears. It helps us build even greater things. I like borrowing from familiar mechanical objects like wires, screws, wheels, along with the human form as a common language so I can simply begin combining them without losing the audience. This process leads to new combinations I might use on future works. The images aren’t really a solution but more of a launching point for new questions to talk about.
From an artistic perspective, cars are…….. functional immersive sculptures. Most garages make horrible pedestals for them. The car club displays them very well. Like a gallery would. A sculpture is approached and circled around but you usually can’t open one up and drive it up the West Side Highway! Then the highway becomes your “pedestal” and the other drivers your audience as you drive a beautiful sports car through the gallery of the interstate. It’s also something you viscerally feel. The vibration of the engine, the sound as you move through the gears and feel the centrifugal force firmly push you back in your seat. Cars like that are sculpture to the tenth power.
The work I’m displaying at MF Gallery this week represents…… A narrower focus on some of the themes I naturally have going on when I create art. I’m having the show with my good friend and fellow artist, Steve Ellis. I actually know two Steve Elis’. This is the other one. Because we were sharing the space we decided on a loose theme to bring some focus to our show. Martina at MF Gallery also asked us for a theme or at least a name to promote the show. Persona Monsters is what we decided on. Over the last thirty plus years I’ve drawn and painted my share of monsters as has Steve. I came up from mural painting to comic book illustration, editorial illustration, and gallery display work. My journey through life and the art world has exposed a lot of personal discovery and monsters. They come in all manner of form. Swimming in the ocean a shark can attack you! Monster. That person you thought you were in love with can reject you. Monster. A fluffy new born kitten can absorb you and make you forget about all else in the universe! Monster. I lean toward a more whimsical image. The scope of the art in this show reflects some of the range of what a monster is in the loose sense while the skulls and some of the color pallets keep things grounded.
The perfect road……… is Route 97 south of Binghampton, NY. Not the smoothest surface, but it hugs the beginnings of the Delaware River as it meanders between New York and Pennsylvania. Beautiful green area with plenty of places to stop and absorb some nature or rent a canoe!