This week’s Studio Sunday features the work of LA-based artist S.P. Harper. Her work focuses on imagery of glittering gemstones created in a way that mixes the traditional still-life with modernism. Learn more about the family ties that inspire her choice of subject matter and the strong interest she has in the Ecocentric art movement in her interview below!
S. P. Harper studied art at the American University in Paris, France with Paul Jenkins, USC Roski School of Fine Arts (BFA) and ArtCenter in Pasadena, California. After spending 12 years in New York City, Harper returned to Los Angeles to teach art and concentrate on Ecocentic Art. Harper’s grandfather, Archibald Picking, was a diamantaire (diamond cutter) before becoming a conductor for Pacific Electric Red Cars.
When did you first become interested in art? Where did you study and can you tell us a bit about the early years of your career?
My interest in art was first kindled when my parents took me to see Pop Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The boldness of Andy Warhols’s big Brillo boxes and Campbell’s’ soup cans resonated with me. Our public school system did not offer instruction in the arts so without art classes throughout my elementary, junior and high schools, ultimately my love of art and pleasure of working in a studio environment was discovered in college. I learned to paint and sculpt but did not have a solid concept or vision of what to create, initially accepting trompe l’oeil and design projects until slowly developing my focus over time, many years, in fact.
How has your work developed and when did you begin to hone in on the subject matter that you focus on today?
Ten years ago, collecting my daughter and her friend’s used clothing, tie-dying them and selling them back to school parents for annual fund raiser benefits initiated my interest in reclamation. This re-appropriating process led me to paint with discarded surface materials. The still life of the gem stone came around organically because they are the perfect object to see recycled patterns through the gem facets. Just recently, there is an awareness this subject matter may come from channeling my late grandfather who was a diamantaire (diamond cutter).
What is your current work inspired by?
The iPad drawings by David Hockney and his unparalleled mastery of draftsmanship and color have long served as inspirational material for me. Like David, I abstract from nature and attempt to present my subject in an artful and positive light using David’s kiss-of-the-sun, California color palette. I am also inspired by the Ecocentric artist activist: Vik Muniz. His dramatic use of recycled materials and the sheer size of his “WasteLand” series are awe-inspiring.
Can you talk about your interest in the Ecocentric Art Movement and how your art fits into it?
I paint on and create sculpture with reclaimed materials such as discarded tablecloths, wallpapers, curtains, metal and wood scraps. By reforming and re-employing, my work brings materials back to life to re-use and up-cycle. There is a new scholarship emerging as a massive international movement of the 21st Century to reduce our dependence on mass produced goods takes hold. Ecocentric practice is filtering into the consciousness and the behavior of society and is being explored by many disciplines as human values recalibrate. The movement serves the needs of environmentalism and is also known as Neo Materialism.
What kind of space do you work in to make your art? What is important to have in it for you?
I work in a home studio which contains a wood shop and do the metal smithing at Molten Metal Works in Glendale, California. Good light, a large table space and a lot of unencumbered free time to create are top priorities. A room sized space is dedicated to storing a collection of salvaged materials in which painting and sculpture creation comes from. These materials are a constant source of inspiration. They tug at my heart stings to be rejuvenated and launched back into the world.
Are there any big projects, collaborations, or exhibitions that you are working on for the rest of the year that you'd like to share?
Seven Million Karats at the Audubon Center at Deb’s Park in Pasadena, California is my most recent installation. Seven Thousand Karats is included in Works On Paper at the Brand Library and Art Gallery in Glendale, California opening on September 7 and runs through October 25. A Diptych painting and sculpture will in included in Above the Couch at bG Gallery, Santa Monica, California opening on September 21 and runs through October 15. See you at the openings for art and cocktails!