Harold Garde, “SSHHH,” 2013, acrylic on canvas, 44 x 55 in.
Harold Garde, “SSHHH,” 2013, acrylic on canvas, 44 x 55 in.
If you listen to Harold Garde speak, you'd never guess that he's 90 years old. There's vigor, humor, and a little bit of feistiness. And although he himself talks about the limitations coming with age, nothing in his poise, or artwork, betrays that. Just in recent years, he has had four solo museum exhibitions, at the Art Museum of the University of Wyoming in Laramie (2010), the Museum of Florida Art in DeLand (2008), and the University of Maine at Farmington Art Gallery (2005 and 2012). And many readers may also remember his exhibition of Kimono paintings at the Farnsworth Art Museum twelve years ago. His work is in numerous museum collections, including the Portland Museum of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Garde now seasonally migrates between Maine and Florida, where I recently caught up with him on the phone to talk about his highly successful career.

Britta Konau: How do you go about getting your work out there and receiving the kind of attention you have been, besides by making good art?

Harold Garde: It takes time. If you live long enough it will happen. (laughs)

It is very important to become part of a community and my social connections are all in the art community in both Florida and Maine. So my record of shows and reviews is intricately connected to where I live. I just started showing up at events, socialized, and talked about my art, even inviting people home. That is how I first got started in Belfast. I read about John Ames's gallery in the paper, even before moving to town, and got in touch with him when I did. And after I stopped teaching, I continued to give workshops, which was another way to be involved.

I have also sought introductions from other well-known artists who were in the area for residencies or such. And I've had some pretty darn good curators who have supported me. And then I was included in the exhibition and book On the Edge: Forty Years of Maine Painting 1952-1992, guest-curated by Theodore F. Wolff. He counted me among a small handful of artists whose work was about changing the parochial nature of art in Maine, and the related publicity really helped getting the word out about my painting.

BK: How do you see yourself in the larger art communities in Florida and Maine? Do you think you have a specific role?

HG: I am often being asked to teach workshops. And I've been asked for advice and been part of discussions at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. You do become a guru of some kind when you have enough grey hair or none.

BK: I am also thinking along the lines of being a mentor and have personally been present when other accomplished artists have credited you as a significant influence. How do you feel about that?

HG: I am of course delighted and flattered when that happens - and embarrassed at the same time. But of course they are not wrong; I have influenced quite a few artists, especially through my workshops.

BK: You are now 90 years old and during the first 90 days of this year you created a painting each day in celebration. And generally, you are a very productive artist - how can you sustain this level of creativity?

HG: Ordinarily, I never give myself a New Year's challenge but this was fun. They were all strappos* and instead of deliberating, hesitating, and rethinking, I had a production goal, and was ready to transfer the paint fast, thinking, one more down, let's go! Of course this is no way to make art but it worked for me.

Also, I am reasonably healthy for my age, but unfortunately or fortunately, I no longer hear so well and get around so easily, so other distractions, like movies, are not so appealing to me anymore and travel in general has become difficult. I also don't indulge in elaborate meals. So I do the one thing I really want to do and spend an awful lot of time in the studio. All in all, I have been very, very lucky.

* A strappo is created by transferring dried layers of acrylic paint from a smooth surface onto paper, which results in a reversal of the sequence of layering.