Exploring The Seen and Unseen
by Meredith Cutler
Bunny Harvey can locate the very place and moment in time that cemented her knowledge that she was, and would always be, an artist. Trailing her fashionable mother through the streets of mid-town Manhattan, the smell of oil paint wafting from the Art Students League of New York drew her in like a siren’s song. Always a creative child with a love of drawing, “that sensory experience was really the beginning of my art,” Harvey recounted.
Through this fall semester at Wellesley College, visitors to the institution’s Davis Museum can view an ambitious retrospective of work by Harvey, Elizabeth Christy Kopf Professor of Art from 1976-2015. This exhibition was one of the first assignments for curator Meredith Fluke, who marks the completion of her first year at Wellesley as Harvey celebrates her last.
As the two began to peel back the layers of Harvey’s prolific back-catalog for the retrospective, Fluke decided to stick to the years that the artist was at Wellesley and to “give [the audience] something that they hadn’t necessarily seen before … not just large-scale, but also small works on paper.”
With a constraint of “just” 40 years, the resulting exhibition is understandably still extensive. Approximately 70 paintings, plus works on paper, are organized into three sections: “Dream Archeology,” “Scientific Observation & Discovery” and “The Natural World: discerned, absorbed, disrupted.”
”Dream Archeology” rewinds to 1980 and Harvey’s first exhibition of paintings at the Davis. The young professor was still reveling in visions of artifacts and history from her time at the American Academy in Rome. A Rome Prize fellowship award enabled Harvey to join a cohort of multidisciplinary deep thinkers there from 1974-76; it was the stew of discovery that kicked her active observational and analytic mind into high gear.
The painting “Many False Doors” pulls in the colors of sand, terracotta and kiln-fired brick evoked by the mystique of the archeological field, of Egyptology and the layers of Rome, itself an entity described by Harvey as appearing “in my paintings – it is the city of layers.”