Alexis Harding: Substance and Accident

Order and control are nothing but illusions. Underlying even the most structured of appearances, randomness and chance are at the helm, and it is these concepts that prevail in the workings of London-based artist Alexis Harding. Throughout Harding’s work, structures are shown to fail, grids collapse, and hard-edged systems give way to entropy. What began in his practice as an act of figurative negation, evolved to evoke the failures of Modernism and construct a highly performative practice that dances lines between the perception of control and the reality of chaos.

Alexis Harding, Substance and Accident, 2012, installation view. Courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle, London.

Since graduating from Goldsmiths in the 1990s, Harding has been exploring the fundamental properties of paint as the medium for his work. In layering a calculated grid of household gloss upon a base of oil paint, the surface is allowed to slide around the canvas, collapse and fall in upon itself – at times reaching a state of complete destruction as the work crumples to the floor.

In his latest exhibition at Mummery + Schnelle, Harding has traded in the dichromatic grid that dominates many of his earlier works for a spectrum of colours, but the process is still the same. While the medium he works in may be paint, the act is a very sculptural one. First laying the paint on its canvas while flat on the floor, the artist then picks the work up and moves it about his studio – intermittently tilting, turning and adjusting as the paint slides around – only after a period of time fixing into place. While there is a great deal of intervention from the artist, the results are largely dependent on chance – how the work will react and how it will fall can be highly unpredictable.

Alexis Harding, Crack Tip (Unraveller), 2011, oil and gloss on MDF, 244 x 122 cm. Courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle, London.

This process is exceedingly visible in the work – glacial in the way that the path the paint has travelled can be traced through the ridges and scars it has left on the surface below. The lines of colour in these works closely resemble an artists’ colour wheel, or the scientific spectrum of light – a bonafide rainbow collapsed by the forces of gravity.

Alexis Harding, Substance and Accident, 2012, installation view. Courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle, London.

Included in the exhibition are also a new series of monochromatic works, which are much more intimate, both in scale and in affect. Bodily in affliction, the sickly shades of pink mimic rippled skin that sags off their supports. The works border on the grotesque, as if Barnett Newman or Clifford Still used skin in place of paint. This is only intensified by the fact that the works are still in flux. Hung while still wet, the paint continues to be brought down by the forces of gravity throughout the exhibition, and the drips and layers of paint that fall off are left as traces in the gallery space.

Alexis Harding, Hood II, 2012, oil and gloss on MDF, 70 x 60 cm. Courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle, London.

Whether the works are actually moving, or just perceived to be, the push is for dynamism, and any artistic intention is at the mercy of the molecules. Here, as a partner in crime for the failure of Modernism, the structures fall into disarray, unable to hold up against external forces. In Harding’s cross-disciplinary, post-minimalist practice, stringent order gives into chaos and chance – and the results lie somewhere between the quietly compelling and the forcefully disrupting.