Drew Harkey is a digital creator and multimedia artist based in Tallahassee, Florida. Influenced by the layers, arrays and transparency of digital media, he developed his unique style creating color fields painted flatly on smooth, light-reflecting surfaces as a means of articulating the additive properties of light (electromagnetic energy) through an inherently subtractive medium (physical pigment). In his paintings, geometric and organic forms are organized to affect a resonance of color — a metonym that conveys a spiritual interpretation of the quantum field in which we inhabit.
Drew spent fifteen years as an independent digital artist before becoming the multimedia designer and programmer for the multidisciplinary arts organization Artis—Naples. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Florida and worked his way through college as an archaeologist and wildland firefighter; these early experiences provide an additional thematic context for his art.
One day I get hired by a museum to be their multimedia artist and I encounter all these powerful works of art. And I start to have that experience between myself and the art — a kind of energetic experience — something that is more tangible than seeing an image online or in a magazine. I begin learning about all the art on the walls and why I’m experiencing this phenomenon, and I’m educating myself on what exactly art is and the nature of the sublime. And I’m noticing how all my own creative efforts on the computer screen are rendered obsolete after a just few years.1 Eleven years of monumental effort, and nothing to show for it. Nothing to hold in my hand. I’m starting to think about the nature of the physical/tangible experience: this exchange between the object and the observer. And it reminds me of when I was on this archaeological excavation: we’re pulling out 3,000 year old pottery sherds, and I’m holding this ceramic pottery in my hand and realize that I am the first person to touch this in three thousand years. Somebody who lived three thousand years ago made this, and now I’m holding it in my hand. And I have this moment with this piece of art. There is this connection between me and the artist, this person who existed three millenia ago, in a time so long ago, it might as well be on a different planet — I would not even recognize it either way. And even though this person and I will never know each other, or really even understand each other in time and culture, a piece of that person has transcended in the form of this creation, and I am able to share a moment in their own experience. With this pottery in my hand I am able to have this communication, from one person to another — across space and time.
And so now here I am in this museum, standing in front of a work of art, and I experience that same connection — this transference of something from one person to another. A communication that transcends language or cultural boundaries — through this work of art.
I’d like to say that it’s this essence or mystery that I’m trying to get at. But it’s not something you can really quantify and define – it just happens if you allow it and try not to get in its way. So in my own artistic evolution, I experiment with materials and their effects and incorporate irrational concepts like phi and geometry and the sublime, to try to get at this spacey archetypal realm where a person feels without words. Because it’s not just the image, it’s the energy of art, imbued by the hand of its creator, this exchange between object and observer. And ultimately, at least at the quantum level, it’s this exchange that creates reality in the first place.
There is a relationship between art and reality that can be expressed in terms of the distinction between beauty and the sublime. It’s a semantic argument from the volumes of art theory and has its roots in the Enlightenment. The gist of it, however, is this: art is beautiful, nature is sublime.
Beauty is the intrinsic aesthetic value of an artistic creation, the result of human intervention, an impression imposed on the natural world — a creation made manifest by the mind of the creator, a human creator. The sublime, on the other hand, is the inherent aesthetic of nature itself, seen through the human eye and appreciated by the mind, but translated in the soul. The sublime transcends all thought and language, touching something deeper than our cultural perspective can perceive.
Beauty is for the mind what the sublime is for the soul.
I’ve thought about this distinction and how it relates to art and design. And I think it comes down to this: beauty is a reaction, usually to some personal memory; the sublime is a collective experience. A sunset may be beautiful with its rich colors and visual complexities, but the aesthetic reaches deeper than a personal or even cultural perception of beauty, reaching further back than the personal reference of our own memory. That sunset may remind you of a sunset previous — and the associated things that happened around it (good and sad). And those memories can provoke an emotional response — but the sublime hits you without any reference to fall back on. It is your first sunset. It’s bigger than you. It’s the experience of the moment. Beauty reminds you of that moment, later.
I think for me the attraction of travel appeals to my experience of the sublime. It’s living in the moment, taking in the world as it comes, unfiltered by previous references because it’s a lot of first times — moments that will create a personal context for the future, from which all judgement and categorization can be short-handed. A traveler has all these experiences in the moment and takes in the aesthetic that comes with it. These experiences transcend language or expression. But when a person attempts to describe this experience to another person, they are now engaged in art. A communication. Whether by recording the scene in words or by visual representation, when a human conveys the sublime, they are doing art.
1 One of the curiosities of art in the digital domain is that its experience requires the mediation of an intermediary: electricity for starters, but also computer languages, physical hardware and other peripherals that obsolete relatively quickly compared more traditional methods. Without them, the work becomes inaccessible, and the artifact is dead. More of a historical curiosity than a cultural touchstone.
2 Beauty does not have to be visually or emotionally “attractive.” It can be ugly. However, beauty itself is the emotional code from which the object is constructed.
Drew Harkey multimedia artist Tallahassee Florida / digital ephemera / photo journal / explorations of nature and geometry in a postpostmodern world