Introduction by Marisa Quirk, Allied Arts:
This September, the Gallery at the Park presents a unique exhibition from Philip E. Harding, a visual artist with over four decades of experience. While Harding’s past works have included stunning 2D prints in a variety of media, including ink, acrylics, and oil pastels, his newest project focuses on fiber arts and rope work.
Harding creates his ropes by combining fibers such as yarns, ribbons, and fabric strips. Spinning ropes allows him to utilize his love of color, texture, and pattern. When he first began the project, he found that the ropes he created were surprising, beautiful, and unique. Over time, he discovered how to form different patterns and textural effects.
Harding first began spinning ropes as a way to process trauma. He wanted to create something more physical, tangible, and grounding than the drawings and paintings he had previously made. He describes the rope work as “meditative and comforting.”
I am a little self conscious about my current project and unsure how to talk about it. With my previous art projects I had a clear idea about what it meant and why I was making it. Not so with the ropes. I find the process of making them engaging and the results beautiful, but I can’t say what they mean or what they are for. I feel like I should make something in response to climate change, racism, or rising fascism. If anything, this project is an escape into beauty, art for its own sake. After long reflection, I now think I know what the catalyst was for starting this when I did. It involves some difficult years with my brother John.
Briefly, in September 2017, my brother began sleeping on the recliner in my studio. In the previous few years, his life had fallen apart. He lost his job, burned through his savings, and was estranged from his wife. Just getting health insurance took way too much time but once we got it, we were able to get a diagnosis — that of early onset dementia. With the diagnosis, he could get disability, and in March of 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, he was able to move into a group home, followed by assisted living in 2021 before he finally passed away in May of 2022 at age 64. He was only 16 months older than me.
While John was living in my studio, I focused on digital art, mostly geometric patterns. When he moved out, I made a couple of paintings but I felt the need to make something more physical. I built my first rope making machine, unboxed the massive quantity of yarn I had accumulated over decades for just such a project, and began twisting it into rope.
Caring for someone with dementia is a slow-motion train wreck. It starts subtly, and at first you don’t know what it is, but when it is over, you are left with a sort of PTSD. Everyone processes grief and trauma in their own way. For me, I walked back and forth the fifty odd feet between the rope machine and a fixed point down a long hall, laying out each strand one by one, hour after hour. The work gave me some mental and emotional space to process the previous few years while letting me keep busy. Ropes are not expressions of grief, though they may be a metaphor for how I was spinning things over in my mind. As objects, they have a tactile physical beauty and making them has allowed me to explore pattern, texture, and color in new and tangible ways.
December 2022, I stopped making ropes and began making some new, large wall pieces. I first tried some macrame knots but those felt too clunky, so I’ve focused on simple hangings. Most are about 80 to 82 inches tall, hanging loosely from poles. Others are canvas mounted sets of ropes, including a three panel horizontal set that is three feet tall and a full 12 feet wide.
I will be exhibiting these and more as the featured artist at Richland’s Allied Arts gallery, The Gallery at the Park. Most Allied shows feature two or more artists but I am honored to be granted a solo show. Until then, and after the show, the work can be seen at hardingfineart.com.
All Ropework by Philip Harding
Philip Harding is a longtime Richland artist with degrees in Architecture from WSU, in Art History from the UW, and an MA in The History of Art from Ohio State University.
Philip E. Harding’s exhibition of rope work will be on display at the Gallery at the Park from August 29 through September 30.
The artist reception will be on Sunday, September 10, from 1–3pm.
The Gallery at the Park is located at 89 Lee Boulevard in Richland, or you can go online to galleryatthepark.org. The Gallery’s hours are Tuesday–Thursday, 12–4pm, and Friday–Saturday, 10am–5pm.