The Layered Career Of Bunny Harvey

The Layered Career Of Bunny Harvey

Primordial Song, Bunny Harvey, 1997. Oil on canvas, 78 by 66 in.

Courtesy of the Artist

Primordial Song, Bunny Harvey, 1997. Oil on canvas, 78 by 66 in.

Courtesy of the Artist

Bunny Harvey’s career embraces not only her accomplishments as an artist but also her skill as a teacher. For 40 years, students have cherished her lively curiosity, bracing critiques, and no-nonsense approach. And they have taken to heart her example on how to live a rich, full life.

Harvey, who is Elizabeth Christy Kopf Professor of Art and won the Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2004, is retiring. This fall, she’s being honored with a retrospective, Bunny Harvey: Four Decades at the Davis Museum through Dec. 13, and a retirement celebration on Dec. 4. The exhibition was curated by Meredith Fluke, Kemper Curator of Academic Programs, and sponsored by Wellesley College Friends of Art.

Since winning the Rome Prize in Painting in 1974, Harvey has earned numerous prizes and awards, as well as travel grants. She’s had one-woman exhibitions in New York and throughout Europe, and retrospectives at several venues.

Her interests over her career have been varied and eclectic, encompassing everything from archeology and particle physics to cosmology and philosophy. She’s also a serious gardener and cook.

In addition to Harvey’s vibrant paintings and atmospheric drawings, the Davis exhibition includes contributions from nearly 100 former students, a testament to Harvey’s profound effect on lives and careers.

She welcomed into her classes not only art majors but also students from other disciplines. “I treat my students as if each one is potentially gifted in the language of painting,” she says. By introducing them to the physicality and joy of painting, Harvey has made lifelong converts: “It was love at first stroke,” writes Andrea Guay ’89, who received a B.A. in architecture and is now exhibiting her own paintings. For some, Harvey’s “unflinchingly bold and gently supportive” style, as Charity Appell McNabb ’89 describes it, provided the confidence to pursue careers in the arts or as teachers.

Harvey integrates all the layers of her life—nature, science, art, archaeology, family, gardening, and cooking—into her work. In the studio, as well as in the kitchen, she assembles her ingredients and then lets the process take over. “Everything I do is preparation for painting,” she says. “When I’m in the studio, I try to let go of what I know. I trust my instinct.”

She paints from memory and from an intimate relationship with the land, rather than from life. “My paintings represent fragments of mind, rather than actual landscapes,” she says. The resulting paintings are recognizable as landscapes, but they aren’t tied to a single location, perspective, or scale.

Harvey sends her paintings out into the world to be shaped and experienced by the people who see them. She’s heartened that her students are taking what she’s given them and making it their own, and passing it on. “I don’t feel as if anything is over,” she says.

Bunny Harvey: Four Decades is open at the Davis until Dec. 13.

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