Harwood, Eleanor: And She Paints, Too

Through August 2, 2008; Lincart, 1632 C Market Street, San Francisco;
(415) 503-1981; Tue - Sat 12 to 6; http://www.lincart.com/; contact hope@lincart.com

Click here to see images: http://lincart.com/artists/album04/InvisiblePyramid

Eleanor Harwood is like that popular girl who you admired in High School: pretty, funny, friends with all the cliques, varsity athlete, class valedictorian … and she can paint, too. (Harwood claims she was not popular in High School, but will admit to being voted “most unique.”) Harwood’s career is the true story of a talented artist who found herself in the right place at the right time and took advantage of every opportunity presented to her. These days she is known for her eponymous gallery in that alternative-chic neighborhood where the Outer Mission blends with Potrero Hill, but she didn’t start out intending to be a dealer.

Her collage paintings at Lincart are magical and mysterious, with a sprinkling of retro contact paper so artfully applied that the printed laminate patterns blend seamlessly with her brushstrokes. (The effect is partly due to her use of thick acrylic polymer that she molds into the texture of wood grain.) This show is a mini-retrospective of her work, including pieces painted over the past three years.

Invisible Pyramid Above Three Women” ($4,200) was painted in 2005 and was exhibited in her MFA show, though it looked like a different painting and has been reincarnated for this show. This is a large scale piece (48” x 48”) of fantasy sci-fi. An enormous, dead, wood grain-contact paper tree rises up in the foreground and divides the barren, apocalyptic landscape in two. Anonymous figures, completely shrouded by voluminous robes, expectantly face a sheltered cove framed by glaciers.

A Path of Garnets Sometimes Leads You To Diamonds” ($2,000) was painted in 2008. Eye-chart detail is packed into this small 16”x 20” canvas. “Garnets” is the ultimate Easter egg hunt: jewels spill out in plain sight across a steep, fairyland cliff, tumbling into the ocean.

Harwood is influenced by the magical realism of Peter Doig’s tranquil yet eerie landscapes and by the distorted, unglamorous portraits painted during the fecund Weimar Republic in Germany, right before WWII. You can also see the impact that environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert has had on Harwood’s work, namely her Cassandra-like articles written for The New Yorker. Both artists draw our attention to the slow death of our planet.

Early on, film and video were an important part of Harwood’s body of work. In fact, storytelling is a strong element throughout her oeuvre. From 2000-2002 she participated in BAVC, the Bay Area Video Coalition (video art collecting pioneer Dick Kramlich is a board member), and before that was recognized by one of Art Forum’s contributing writers as "top ten" talent in 2001.

Part of Harwood’s cult status comes from being one of the first young curators to mold the program at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery. With used books stacked to the ceiling and the scent of patchouli redolent in the air, Adobe perpetuates the mythic 60s counter culture atmosphere. The gallery in the back is no more than 88 square feet but the volunteer curators have a track record for showing raw emerging talent- artists who often go on to greater acclaim quickly after their Adobe experience.

Early exhibitions of Harwood’s own work in the Bay Area include a 2003 group show at alternative project space a.o.v. gallery (now defunct), then co-curated by a rising star talent in her own right, Julie Casemore (who is now an integral part of the staff at Stephen Wirtz Gallery), and Jonathan Fogel, editor of Tribal Arts magazine.

In 2004 Harwood received the Murphy-Cadogan Fellowship, granted to MFA candidates of exceptional promise who were nominated by their teachers. She continued to curate Adobe with artist pals Misako Inaoka and Sarah Bostwick until 2006.

In 2005 she was invited to participate in Miami’s Aqua Art Fair and decided that she should follow the calling. She attended the first fair under the name of Adobe Books Backroom Gallery and then as Eleanor Harwood Gallery in ’06 and ’07.

Nine months after that first fair, Harwood raised the funding required to launch her gallery space and has since continued to impress the art community with her keen eye for choosing artists who are both strong technicians and dedicated to their craft. One of her artists, Paul Wackers, recently won the Tournesol Award, granted by Headlands Center for the Arts to one promising Bay Area emerging painter each year.

If Harwood is the popular girl-next-door, Charles Linder is The Fonz, the cool lone wolf who all the girls wanted to date and all the boys envied. His Lincart Gallery is geographically and figuratively at the crossroads between Hayes Valley and the Mission, showing artists who don’t fit neatly into any category, like Tucker Nichols (minimalist doodles with wise literary captions) and Matt Gonzales, former SF Supervisor who makes collages with found objects. Like Harwood, Linder is also an artist-dealer who trained locally. Linder attended the San Francisco Art Institute and shows his found metal sculpture at Gallery 16.

Harwood hasn’t had much time to paint in the last few years, but the Lincart show allowed her to rearrange her priorities. She’s hiring gallery interns right now so she can devote more time to painting – perhaps a great opportunity for an aspiring artist to get swept up in her whirl. Those bound by tradition need not apply.