Born in 1945 in Stockton, California, Harlan Sadberry studied art at the San Francisco Art Institute [1977-1980]. His energetic and prolific work there was wide-ranging but bound together by interests in color, irregular shapes, and amorphous forms, and by the influence of dance and movement. He also brought to his studies sensibilities developed during earlier travels in Japan and China. His recent work still reflects an Eastern spiritual emphasis on immediate experience and there is a reference to calligraphy still present in the brushwork.
In 1981 Donald Kuspit included Sadberry's paintings on paper in an exhibition of works he saw as demonstrating "a new development in drawing: the return of the child's drawing," 10 or in the words of Fernando Pernes "intuitive vitalism." 11 Sadberry's work has also been shown at the Downey Museum of Art in Los Angeles, the Richmond Art Center in Richmond, California, the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists Gallery.
Unlike many contemporaries in the 1980s, Sadberry did not embrace deconstructionism as it became the prominent force in the arts. Rather, he retained a primary interest in the sensual use of paint as a tool in communicating universal, spiritual themes in the most direct and powerful ways possible. Then and throughout his career, he has sought to bypass the intellect in favor of appealing directly to the senses.
While generally ignoring postmodern artists, in 1988 Sadberry gently parodied their frequent inclusion of text in their images and a perceived tendency to take themselves and their emotions too seriously. In the most conceptual of his works, a painterly, playful, candy-colored canvas incongrously displays the words "Steroid Rage." 12
Much of Sadberry's work deliberatly makes the entire process of painting visible. As in calligraphy, there is an emphasis on the artist's complete presence with every brushstroke, not on making corrections to achieve a polished perfection. In this vein, Sadberry's paintings in the early 1990's experimented with translating rhythmic movement of variable tempo into images. A 1990 black and white painting entitled Bardo II is such a study and also an exploration of spatial ambiguity. 13
In 2005 and 2006 Sadberry taught painting at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a Buddhist monastery in Talmage, California. During those years he also completed a set of drawings that led to The Tree of Life, an on-going series of paintings begun in 2008.1-9
The drawings brought new elements into Sadberry's work. Expressionist spontaneity is conveyed only in the building blocks of the images, a multitude of tiny, energetic lines. Their placement is deliberate and tightly controlled so that in constellation they form balanced, harmonious figures. Due to the quality of movement in the lines and their lack of solidity, the images have a shifting, fluid, or vibrating appearance. The repetitive, pre-conscious nature of the mark-making could be said to be automatist, while the composition, at least in the more abstract drawings, has a constructivist flavor. The more abstract images, of simple geometric shapes, were the departure point for The Tree of Life paintings,1-9 which extended these concepts with color, scale, and the more sensual potential of brush and paint. (See "ABOUT THE WORK")
Copyright 2010 Elizabeth Montgomery. By permission.
1 The Tree of Life, 2008, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
2 The Second Tree of Life, 2008, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
3 The Third Tree of Life, 2008, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
4 The Fourth Tree of Life, 2008, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
5 The Fifth Tree of Life, 2008, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
6 The Sixth Tree of Life, 2008, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
7 The Seventh Tree of Life, 2008, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
8 The Eighth Tree of Life, 2008, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
9 The Ninth Tree of Life, 2009, acrylic paint on canvas, h56 x w64in./h142.2 x w162.5cm.
10 LIS'81 Lisbon International Show, International Exhibition of Drawings, Portugal; Lisboa, Galleria Nacional De Arte Moderna de Belem, 30 Outubro - 30 Novembro 1981: Divisao de Artes Plasticas da Direccao - Geral da Accao Cultural - de Secretaria de Estado da Cultura, Ministerio da Cultura e Coordenacao Cientifica, Lisboa, Portugal, 1981, pp 12-13.
11 Ibid., pp 16-17
12 Steroid Rage, 1988, acrylic paint on canvas, h64 x w56in./h162.5 x w142.2cm.