An Interview with Artist Harvey Daniels ( 1936-2013 )

May, 2010

JK: In this painting from 1989, we can see suggestions of a fractured grid.

HD: Yes. I’ve made several paintings and prints with similar titles. The title, Around the Modern Device, is based on Paul Klee’s Around the Fish. Curved shapes surround the geometry that seems to emerge from the center and spread.
Around the Modern Device
Around the Modern Device, acrylic on canvas,
183 x 122 cm (72 x 48 in), 1989

JK: The palette in Lemonade from 1991 feels quite exuberant.

HD: Lemonade is a key painting. There’s a confidence of color—four yellows, very rich colors, the contrasting blacks. And I feel the curved shapes in this piece really work. The overlapping shapes recall collage. I also enjoy the contrast between the more transparently painted and textured areas and parts where the paint handling is thick and flat.

Lemonade, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 87 x 150 cm (34 x 59 in), 1991

JK: You were addressing similar concerns in printmaking, if in a more simplified form.

HDI’ve worked in most printmaking media—etching, woodcuts, lithography, screen printing. Working in printmaking stimulates new ideas and gives an impetus to thinking about and looking differently at my paintings.

Stage and Fling are woodcuts. This medium has its own discipline. The block is cut from plywood using a router and can’t be changed easily, thus the composition had to be more simple than in much of my work. These prints are strong and positive. Their immediacy helps me enjoy the process.

Stage (image area only), woodcut,
110 x 107 cm (43 x 42 in), 1992
Fling (image area only), woodcut,
110 x 107 cm (43 x 42 in), 1992

A New Landscape emphasizes the painting’s edges as well as the tilting and overlapping of flat areas. It’s a painting on a smallish size canvas, one I have often used. It’s simple, straightforward and strongly suggests collage. The title comes from the color and shapes, which suggest both daytime and nighttime. My titles usually come after a painting is finished, as it did here.

A New Landscape
A New Landscape, acrylic on canvas, 41 x 61 cm (16 x 24 in), 1993

I was working to incorporate a richer experience in Tilt and later works. I wanted my paintings to be more up-front and to have a feeling of excitement. If jazz musicians tell a story, I like the idea of the painting singing with a musical feeling, using the color and shapes to become both poetry and spirit.

Tilt, watercolor, 65 x 93 cm (26 x 37 in), 1994

JK: Looking at Tip Top, the jostling floating shapes impart a sense of whimsy or lightheartedness.

HD: Yes, it does seem a little more lighthearted, although some of its shapes and ideas I may not use again. This is a complex painting.

Tip Top
Tip Top, watercolor, 65 x 93 cm (26 x 37 in), 1995

JK: Tootsie is one of your circular paintings. With its tilted and overlapping areas, it seems to subvert suggestions of an underlying grid.

HD: Tootsie in one of a series of eight to ten round paintings I made in the late 90s. It has an overall feeling to it and is fairly flat, yet the overlapping and intercutting of shapes give it great intensity. The colors also have authority.The circular format suggested new ways of working. With a rectangular canvas, I would relate the composition much more to its edges.

Tootsie, acrylic on canvas, 100 cm diameter (39 in diameter), 1995

JK: Some of your paintings from the 90s have a very dark palette.

HD: Most of these paintings are done primarily in dark blues and blacks. Captive is very large, dark watercolor with small areas of bright colors. It feels quite fluid and, as the title suggests, many of its shapes are held captive, here by the three dotted lines. I don’t believe it was a conscious decision to work so darkly—perhaps it happened because I insisted on using more and more layers of color, and the paintings grew darker and darker as I worked to get things right.

Captive, watercolor, 78 x 98 cm (31 x 39 in), 1997

I wasn’t unhappy about my work getting darker, but I’ve never wanted it to be angst ridden. These dark paintings paradoxically have a greater feeling of space and sometimes transparency. The light is always important—even in my darkest paintings and prints like Slight Light. For me, this light is a necessity; it makes the work come alive.

Slight Light
Slight Light, watercolor, 57 x 76 cm (22 x 30 in), 1997

Balance is one of my small watercolors that I often work on between more ambitious projects. This smaller size allows me to try out ideas and complete a painting in only a few days.

The title reflects one of my major compositional concerns. I want to make balance a positive aspect in my paintings. Here, a rectangle may be balanced precariously, almost tipping over, but not quite.

Balance, watercolor, 30 x 26 cm (12 x 10 in), 1998

JK: The issue of scale in your work is interesting. Some of the small watercolors seem almost like fragments—as you’ve titled the painting below.

HD: I’m not an artist who works at a single size. I like the challenge of complete changes in scale. I’ve made paintings as small as three by two inches. These small works can stand on their own, although sometimes they may be studies for larger works.

Fragment IV
Fragment IV, watercolor,
23.5 x 9 cm (9 x 3.5 in),

I’ve made quite large prints such as Jumbo. I have a published photograph taken in the workshop of Peacock 21 of two people printing it, as it was too large a sheet of paper for one person to handle easily.

Jumbo, silkscreen, 243 x 153 cm (96 x 60 in), 1992

I enjoy the way scale makes enormous changes in both the working process and the imagery. Even the time it takes to make the work changes the image. And the detail in some of the smaller work is not always possible or necessary on a seven foot square canvas.

the artist and the painting Zigzag
Harvey Daniels in front of Zigzag, acrylic on canvas,
150 x 180 cm (59 x 71 in), 1985

JK: Your largest work would have to be the extensive walkway you designed, which used 12 tons of colored aggregate.

Southampton walkway
Southampton walkway (partial view), 2001

HD: Yes, the walkway at Southampton meanders for more than 200 meters. The council who awarded me the commission wanted to direct the public to a particular route from the railway station past a large toy store to a new shopping center. I worked in a geometric way with color and incorporated squares that I hoped children would play hopscotch on.

Southampton walkway
Southampton walkway (partial view), 2001

: There’s a great contrast between the fluidity of your watercolors and most of your work in printmaking.

HD: I enjoy the purity and clarity of prints like the etchings below—the images are direct and simple, and all the parts feel necessary to the whole.

Danger, copper plate etching,
30 x 21 cm (12 X 8 in), 1999
Level, copper plate etching,
30 x 21 cm (12 x 8 in), 1999

Sometimes I feel that I’ve been painting the same picture for 40 years, which is one reason I make so many prints. Printmaking gives me a fresh impetus, a new format, and often a fairly quick resolution. A print may yield an idea for a painting, or I may refine a painting into a printed image.

JK: Your palette seems to have changed since the dark works of the late 90s.

Dove GreyStamp
Dove Grey, colored woodcut,
124 x 56 cm (49 x 22 in), 2000
Stamp, colored woodcut,
124 x 56 cm (49 x 22 in), 2000

HD: My palette has become brighter and purer, and I try to make the work stronger—not just through structure, but also with color.

Plan V     Triangles II
Plan V, watercolor,
57 x 26 cm (22 x 10 in), 2005
Triangles II, watercolor,
57 x 26 cm (22 x 10 in), 2005

JK: You’re married to artist, Judy Stapleton. How does being married to an artist affect your work?

HD: I’m happy to be married to another artist. Judy and I have had many joint exhibitions, but we don’t especially seek out these opportunities.

Judy became well known in the art world early in her career, having two films made about her when she was only 20. Her tutor was the constructivist, Kenneth Martin, whom Judy says didn’t teach her how to paint, but how to think. Artists such as David Hockney, Yves Klein and Paul Jenkins were part of her personal circle in the late 50s and early 60s. During the 60s and 70s, we would visit Sir Roland Penrose, the surrealist, and Lee Miller, the renowned photographer who worked with Man Ray, at their home in Sussex.

Artist Judy Stapleton
Judy Stapleton with the painting, Twinkle,
acrylic on handmadepaper, in our Lézan studio

Our working methods are very different. I typically work methodically for several hours each day. Judy normally works in series, and will spend short amounts of time on each work, which she will build up over a period of time. We mostly agree in our assessment of one another’s work. I often ask Judy’s advice on my paintings and prints when they’re moving towards completion, and usually accept her advice. Judy finishes making her work, and may ask for my opinion on the completed work—whether to keep or destroy it.

JK: You have studios in both in Brighton in the UK and Lézan in southern France. Do the two environments influence your work differently?

Harvey Daniels in his Brighton studio
Harvey Daniels at work in his Brighton, UK studio

HD: I have much more space in Lézan. There I can cut wood easily and, because of the usually warm climate, I can use a router and cut out of doors. I tend to make more detailed works in France as the studio is larger and very quiet. The white tiles on the floor and wonderful views of the landscape are so different from my studio in an artists cooperative in an industrial building in Brighton, though the art community in Brighton allows discussion and the exchange of ideas.

JK: And the quality of light in southern France prized by painters?

HD: The light is wonderful, but I don’t believe it has much influence on my work.

Harvey Daniels in his studio in Lezan
Harvey Daniels in his studio in Lézan, France

I’m happy with my recent work and concerns—the use and understanding of scale from the tiny  watercolors to the very large walkway and cycling path, the possibilities of color and its juxtaposition with areas of grey, white and black. The hours of adjusting both shape and color are something I both enjoy and am apprehensive about—hoping that something new and special will come out of all this work.

I’m now thinking of making a series of 10 paintings on canvas, each 48 by 36 inches, that will relate directly to each other and be hung with just a few inches of space between them. I would use shapes and colors similar to those I’ve been using recently to create not just a series of separate canvases, but a total environment.

Blues Tilt
Blues Tilt, acrylic on canvas,
122 x 91 cm (48 x 36 in), 2009

I think I’ve used the title Art History for some of my works because I’m probably a traditional modernist. I use elements of abstraction that have been in use since the beginning of the twentieth century. I no longer have to think about painting as an activity that has to be intellectually justified. I simply feel the need to make, to paint. When it works, it’s its own justification.

Harvey Daniels
Harvey Daniels
(Photo credit: ADAGP Jean-Pierre Loubat)

More information about the artist at
Video by cinematographer Mike Southon:  “It’s All A Gamble” at: 


Interview images and text copyright © 2010 Julie Karabenick & Harvey Daniels All Rights Reserved.

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All text and artwork reproduced by permission of the artists.

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