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Barbara Harman


Art making is constant exploration. It demands that I find ways to synthesize visual richness with elusive meaning so that the results illuminate contradictions at the same time they, temporarily at least, resolve them. Nature is evident in my work as primary inspiration. The longer I have lived in this part of the Midwest, the more my art has become about the abundance and compressed view of the natural landscape. When I go to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge south of Minneapolis, there are few places where it is possible to see for any distance. I am increasingly focused on what lies between me and that distance. Much of my work dispenses with any attempt to separate these intervening elements. These works reflect the crowded abundance of what I see, at the same time demanding I pay closer attention. I often isolate something in a piece to comply with that demand. I'll bring it forward, enlarge a small detail, incorporate text, add stitching or beadwork. I want to draw others in past what is transparent to what may be hidden or overlooked.

In mid-2012 I began The Fairy Tale Series, to honor the stories that helped sustain me in childhood and grapple with dreams that arise from experiences that still haunt me. This work is a major departure from the nature-based work I have been engaged in for the past 20 years. It returns to figurative work based on my family that I started in graduate school, and picks up the theme again with deeper understanding.

I work in series, creating a body of work that gradually reveals the theme that will then persist throughout the series. I use hand-cut and commercially made stamps and stencils, photographs, found objects, and many impromptu texture materials interchangeably, regardless of medium. I build my images slowly through exchanging or repositioning these elements, and reworking previous areas. A single painting may have more than 25 layers of thin, transparent paint in many colors, while monotypes often use several different plates and print runs to achieve the same layered effect. Textile work allows me to add hand embroidery and beading, and my artist books marry text and imagery to structure, distilling the experiences and ideas that prompted the series. A typical series encompasses 4-6 years and will consist of more than 100 pieces, including monotypes, prints, paintings on paper and fabric, embroidery, artist books, site notes and sketches, and hundreds of photographs.


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