Paul Anthony Harford
13 September - 10 November, 2018
Sadie Coles HQ
Review by Kaitlyn Kane
Paul Anthony Harford is an artist missing from the narrative of modern British Art. Born in the 1940s, he studied at Byam Shaw Art School as a mature student in the late 1960s and died in 2016 having lived between Southend-On-Sea and Weymouth for much of his life, working as a cleaner on the pier. While he never had public recognition during his lifetime, an exhibition of his drawings at Sadie Coles HQ, following on from an exhibition at Focal Point Gallery in Southend, is aiming to place him alongside his contemporaries and bring his practice into a wider appreciation.
The exhibition is largely comprised of work created during a prolific period towards the end of his life. A series of simple, uniform works rendered in graphite and full of repeating motifs and familiar settings, the neat row of drawings creates a sequence of images that become almost narrative, constructing a tangible atmosphere. Harford himself is the subject of nearly all the works and there is a sense of melancholy throughout. The interiors are suffocating and stark and while the windows and doors open out to reveal the striking seascapes of the coast, the promenades and pavilions are lifeless.
In one of the first drawings in the exhibition, Harford depicts himself sitting on the edge of a bed. He stares wearily out at nothing, though bracing himself for a day he does not have the energy to face. The scene is fastidiously rendered and rich in detail. The strange, abstracted landscape depicted on the bedspread is reminiscent of a Japanese print, and the walls are covered in a lighter repeating pattern of shells and ferns. In many of his hyper-realistic works, the subject matter can almost verge on mundane - in one drawing, Harford rummages through his freezer in his pajamas, in another, he sits before an electric heater, warming himself.
Further into the exhibition, however, the drawings begin to revolve around physiological elements and his foundation in realism only makes this departure more apparent. In one, he shows himself, bent over a floor buffing machine, with large vulture wings. In another, he is standing on the promenade, being attacked by seagulls that look more like ferocious birds of prey. In these later works, the truth within the earlier drawings is made evident: the British seaside is a complex, multi-layered place. They are towns of beauty and a previously held glamour, they’re also places where now, desperation and degeneration are laid bare.
The most poignant works in the exhibition are the drawings in which Harford depicts his mother, frail and clearly coming to the end of her life, she’s shown sleeping under thick covers, already starting to slip away. In one drawing, a thick safety rail cuts in front of the composition, signaling that her separation has already begun. In these works, there is a strong sense of love and community, a balm against the melancholic isolation seen in the other drawings. Solace, it seems, can be found in connection, in moments of tenderness, even if they come hand-in-hand with pain.