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David Harley

Position: Artist

Qualification: Bachelor of Art (Fine Arts), 1985, RMIT University

A moment in time

It was there – then it was gone. Unlike art work you can take home, artist and RMIT alumnus David Harley’s March 2009 exhibition at the RMIT Project Space Gallery now just lingers as a memory, a catalogue and photographs.

While it was up, Harley’s collaborative work – with German artist Michael Jäger - was big, bold and on for only three weeks before it became an “intuitive memory”. At the end of its allotted time at the Gallery in Cardigan Street, Carlton, a tin of white paint wiped out its existence and made way for something new.

The aptly titled ‘Painting Project Space’ exhibition, by David and his artistic collaborator, was the result of what happens when two artists with a shared interest in installation work get together and decide to create something that crosses the geographical divide.

Making use of the internet, sketches flowed back and forth after David met Michael in his studio in Cologne, while on a residency in Germany. David said that he sent Michael sketched-up models of the space to help him realise and conceive the space. “I work often with this program to help me anticipate and plan the installations – working between 3D and constructing images in 2D and placing them in the model and then assessing and repeating the process until I am satisfied.”

Michael then came to Melbourne, where the two worked furiously to create the art work which covered the Gallery walls. The resulting exhibition: Painting Project Space, ran from March 10 to 27, with a popular floor talk on March 12.

David, who graduated from RMIT with a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art 1985, said he was thrilled that he could introduce Michael Jäger’s work to a Melbourne audience, and that RMIT was fortunate to have the space to host such an event.

“I met Michael through a friend in Cologne when I had a studio residency in Frankfurt, and we began talking about doing a collaboration. I met with him in his studio and saw there was chemistry between our works. We had a simultaneous idea of how we could work together, but because I knew I could apply for the Project Space Gallery at RMIT, I set the wheels in motion,” David said.

David called the Project Space Gallery “a box with a glass top – quite unique” and perfect for the type of installation he knew he wanted to create. He utilized the expertise of RMIT Master of Arts in Fine Art student Nada Jaza, in order to create the resulting works on the large walls of the Project Space gallery.

“It was an amazing experience to help on this installation as I have only just started my MA this semester,” Nada recalled. “I got to help paint the art work and bring the concept to life.”

But what remains when white paint covers the vibrant colors the artists worked on long distance, then in a frantic sprint to the opening? David said the art work isn’t really gone, although only photographs are left behind.

“I have an intuitive memory of this space and that sparks off others things, and moves me on to explore other ideas,” David said. “In a way it is how I carry on in my visual language, it’s something that always builds and grows.”

David has been painting non-representationally for most of his artistic career and it was in 1997 while in London that he reached a crossroad with digital technology. He began using the computer to “finish” scanned A4 works that had already been started by hand, until eventually he began working with painting software. The images are glowing, coloful, playful, reminiscent of spray painting and seem to pulsate.

Dr Stephen Haley wrote in the catalogue of David’s 2007 “Moving Pictures” exhibition in Germany that “a painting, while not exactly outside of time, stands to one side of time, remaining more or less the same, while all the world around it changes. Harley’s recent projections, however, compress this sense of time, accelerating this viewing exchange so that it happens in real time. The painting process appears before us as if occurring in the moment, while we watch and sequentially rather than in completion.”

David agrees, explaining that installation art is “a bit like theatre”, and that the process of painting for the Project Space exhibition was quite dramatic – taking place in a five day burst of activity. “The art work becomes a three week long event in the gallery and then it gets painted over. There is that period of when it goes up and when it comes down, it’s like it is only alive for a certain time.”

“But it has a tremendous energy, being in the space with the paintings directly on the wall – the room expands and changes and places you inside the painting. The gallery then becomes like a stage set.”

At the Project Space Gallery floor talk on March 12, David and Michael amused the audience by revealing where they got their paint – and the story behind the predominant color choices - deep blue and orange. The pair went to a large hardware store when Michael arrived from Germany, and the esteemed artist was amazed by the paint selections – and their names.

“In Germany, if you are going to a paint shop, you tell the person what code you want to get your color. But here – all the colors have a wonderful name, like Freda or something. It’s like a little poem, standing in front of those color samples and names. This is a very good thing!” Michael said.

Although negotiations had been conducted via email, with regards to what art work they would create, it wasn’t until the pair were actually in Cardigan Street, Carlton and entered the Gallery that the real discussions began.

“Once you are in the actual space, then it becomes a whole new adventure,” said David.

Concepts were discarded, others added, and once the paintings began, it was in the space that bordered each artist’s work - the merging of David’s freeform painterly quality with Michael’s hard edge, linear structural approach – that the “dialogue” began. For David, the music began as well, for he incorporates humming and other sounds as he is working, into a soundtrack.

“I have hummed a soundtrack to preparing the installation and it is like working in the studio, so it lets viewers in to the process of how I create art. It is meant to be humorous!” David said.

As he looked around at the installation, which seemed so alive and permanent at the time, David could see the walls blank again, to make way for a new show – and then another. The work won’t end with a pot of white paint though – like the doodles he did in Germany as he waited for a train, he will carry the memory of this collaboration, and the three week exhibition, within him in his visual memory. And so, he hopes, will those who came and saw the show.

Photos by Nicholas Chin:
David Harley
The exhibition opening
(from left) Michael Jäger, Associate Professor David Thomas, RMIT, and David Harley 

By Evelyn Tsitas

May 2009