Straight edge

Kelsie Harder

A cacophony of colors: works by Kelsie Harder on display at Sierra Arts Gallery.

A cacophony of colors: works by Kelsie Harder on display at Sierra Arts Gallery.

Sierra Arts Gallery

17 S. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89501
Ste. 120

(775) 329-2787

We can tell right away that Kelsie Harder prefers to scribe, as in draw. Even when he’s painting, he’s drawing. The strength of his work lies in his rendered edges.

Right down to his cartoonist-style script signature, with its squared ends and perfectly reproduced execution, his work exhibits a semi-mechanical feel, and “semi-mechanical” is an interesting place to be. Nothing here is digital—not even close.

An instructor at Truckee Meadows Community College, Harder has been artistically active for roughly four decades. His work is currently on view as a retrospective at Sierra Arts Gallery through May 29.

The earliest cartoons are from the mid 1960’s. Most are of a political nature. Some are about lost love. But again, the best thing about them is their graphic line work and stippling, a method using small dots to form an image or shade. One example is “Cavalry,” in which a legion of cross-bearers head toward the three crosses on Calvary. Stars are evenly aligned across the intricately cross-hatched evening sky.

“Don’t Think You’re Just a Number” bears a striking rendition of perspective as round heads recede into the distance until we can see just the very top of their domes in the mass of forms. The masses are being addressed by a little Napoleon-type leader. It’s the abstract quality of repetition that keeps us looking at this work.

One cartoon is “Staircase Mountain,” in which a mound of 70 percent gray-hatched boulders are cut through upward and diagonally by a little bulbous-headed guy carving pure, white stairs out of the available rock.

Time spent closely inspecting these line drawings has affected my vision. Let’s move on to the paintings.

The paintings are built up with thick, globular textures of enamel, oil and acrylic paint. “Process art” is a label that could properly describe the paintings, as the labor involved was steady and planned. Depth is achieved through the use of even intervals and color contrast in marks, similar to the later portraits executed by the late photorealist Chuck Close.

Harder’s paintings sometimes break their boundaries with splashes of very hot, colorful explosions, though lines are always present. The colors are garish but this is not a putdown, as the eye is affected by the chromatic vibration, just as the op(tical) artists of the ’60s, such as Bridget Riley, had sought to exploit. Often, the paintings are laid out in square grids crossed with triangles. One could surmise these two shapes to be the one consistent theme. In “Untitled #2,” a rainbow emerges from a cacophony of schismed, scrabbled splashes of frenetic color.

These paintings are sure to repulse some with their beach blanket cheeriness. The series called “Blanket Painter” includes the most unexpected and original of the paintings. Depth seems to be more carefully planned and crafted with hatched lines, taking into account the irregular shapes of roundish paint globs.

When we consider the work on display at Sierra Arts Gallery, from the mid-60s to the present day, Harder has practiced art through the transitional decades between the mechanical and the digital. Straight lines need a manufactured straight edge to assist in their completion, i.e. semi-mechanical rendering.

Looking at only black and white line drawings and paintings of full blown color, we see Harder is certainly a man of contrasts.