Greg Hardy – Blow By

Donald Brackett
Canadian Art, 1997

Rumours about the death of painting have been greatly exaggerated. And never has its premature burial been more evident than in the work of Saskatchewan artist Greg Hardy. His fall show in Toronto was an example of how aesthetic obituaries are too hasty, even for the most perennial Canadian motif – the landscape.

Hardy is a contemporary painter, but in his hands there is no postmodern irony toward the often very beautitul natural spaces he paints. His landscapes hide no messages, nor do they stand as metaphors of the body or as issues of identity. They are appreciations of the earth itself, celebrations of its everyday attractions.

Hardy avoids projecting onto his chosen subjects. The blue of the sky is – blue. He documents it like Giotto, who long ago shocked his viewers when he let the blue sky actually be blue. Hardy seems to have a startling ability to capture the sky’s capacity for instantaneous change. He depicts not weather exactly but its effects as it breathes down the painter’s neck.

Paintings such as Canola Field, Light at Day’s End and Cloud Build Up, both from 1997, grasp elusive colour and light as they pass through the prism of three-dimensional life. And over the years Hardy has reduced the actual land in his landscapes. It seems to me, in the seventies, a horizon might have filled half the picture. In the eighties, it had shrunk to a third. Now, it’s less than that. The paintings are of the huge sky and its calm gestures – chunky clouds with a strange, abstract intensity.

As a dweller in these flat, open spaces himself, Hardy is confronted daily by nature and drawn to the image of the landscape as a means to depict not what he sees so much as the act of remembering the experience of it. For him, the landscape is nature’s stage-set. It is a dramatic performance. As an impresario of the natural, Hardy is unparalleled in his skill at rendering the prairie landscape. His paintings tell us to do nothing. They plead with us to simply look. The work is a link to some of the most ancient forms of image-making, which in classical terms had but three manifestations: the portrait, the still life and the landscape – with their stepped perceptual engagement with the close, the near and the far away.

Hardy’s charm lies in his ability to accept the impossibility of capturing time as it alters the landscape. The results become inspiring souvenirs of the impossible. He is a painter who, when I met him, made vague, circular gestures in front of his heart while describing cumulous clouds. His interests are defined by his own expedition toward the ineffable.