Steven Harvey’s very first work of art remains his favourite. As a young child, his mother placed him in front of the TV with paint and paper to watch and capture the first Lunar landing. The simplicity of the painting - the creation of which was his first real memory - is something he strives towards still to this day. “Drawing and painting was a way of seeing and believing everything, all at once, making ‘art’ came much later,” he says. “It is natural quantum physics for me.” Steven’s latest exhibition Little Bird Prophecies opens at Liverpool Street Gallery in Sydney on December 4.
Which five words best describe you? Fugitive, cave, space, desert, water.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? About 1990, Chandler Coventry, of Coventry Gallery, Sydney, came up to me in his wheelchair at an opening in his gallery in Sutherland Street, Paddington, pointing a cane stick at me quite aggressively, and said, “You have been coming to my gallery for several years now looking at my artists’ shows, when are you going to show me some of your work?”
I had hundreds of paintings, none of which I wanted the great man to see, so I told him I would bring three paintings to show him in two months’ time. I locked myself away in my small studio and painted 24/7 until I passed out, exhausted. When I went back in to see him I showed the three paintings. With his stick he pointed at one of them pushing the others aside and said out loud, “Give this painter a show!”
I kept that painting as a memento as to never forget how nervous I was and how it, the painting, somehow seemed to defy that nervousness in Coventry’s brutal eye. Chandler Coventry’s tenacity and integrity, his carnivorous devouring of any painter who strayed from the path of sacrifice was in my mind the kind of director and patron I had always hoped for. His raw love of tough, expressive abstraction was a path I knew had no compromises.
I see my path as a painter almost biblical, apocalyptic at times, destroying in order to create as nature instructs. To become mannered or to replicate would be like playing the same piece of music over and over. By definition, an artist must strive to invent continuously, exploring the dark brutal truth and ugliness within beauty and vice versa regardless of public expectation, commercial reality and concepts of the career. A path of risk.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Belief that all knowledge outside of wisdom is folly, truth is easy when you burn away the bullshit and lies of the world.
What’s your proudest career achievement? I guess when I break down the real concept of being “proud”, it was when I felt the completion and belief in the installation of my Coastal Walk exhibition. Seeing the blood, sweat and tears in every brush mark that I knew came from a place of total sacrifice. It was in this experience that I came to understand the feeling. Also, learning how to not react when confronting contagious negative emotions, but being positively proactive within my own empathy.
What’s been your best decision? My best decisions have always come from listening to the very quiet voice within, rather than the loud one. I think the best decision was to journey to remote tribes in New Guinea, a place I discovered more about myself, painting, life and the concepts of beauty and darkness. Also forming a great relationship with James Erskine, director of Liverpool Street Gallery, who understands the artist’s evolution, process, and passion.
Who inspires you? A Little Bird, Neil Young, Gandhi. Anyone who preaches a resonating truth regarding the human condition.
What are you passionate about? Vast landscapes, caves, clear water, deserts, space, stars, infinity, colour, love.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I would love to teleport back and meet the first Neanderthal scholar who made the risky decision to prepare and stay in a cave for the winter rather than follow the migrating herds, therefore initiating the concepts of cave painting and language.
What dream do you still want to fulfill? Living a subsistence existence outside of a world created by greed.