Jim Harter: Artist's Statement

My entry into the world of art came in 1967 via an exposure to San Francisco’s psychedelic poster art. This led me to take part in the Austin poster scene from 1969-72. Experimentation with psychedelics awakened me to the immense power of the human psyche in its ability to generate fantastic visual imagery, as it were, on an internal movie screen. From this I gained a better understanding of the fuel that was generating both the psychedelic art movement, and in Europe, the movement known today as Fantastic Realism. I also learned that a few of these artists had the gift of accessing higher creative states without drugs.

I soon found a way to access my own creative inspiration. The connection came to me while experimenting with collage and this has provided a lifelong interest. An early inspiration was the collage art of San Francisco artist Wilfried Satty. Satty used black and white Victorian era engravings as source material in a way that created an effect both mysterious and timeless. In that sense he broke from his collage predecessor Max Ernst, who seemed primarily interested in creating shocking, or merely strange surreal images. Satty’s art evoked something I was familiar with from drug experiences, and I wanted to infuse this into my own creations.

Working in the medium of collage has offered multiple choices. I would combine different images in various ways in an attempt to find something that “worked.” I became familiar with those symbols that had real meaning and authenticity for me. So my cut and paste collage creations were not quick juxtapositions of incongruous imagery, but rather painstaking efforts that sought a real poetic magic, something that mirrored my own soul.

The combination of images expresses ideas. Modern depth psychology has suggested, however, that symbols are not fixed, but rather have multiple meanings and are open to various interpretations. The Dutch visionary painter Johfra has suggested that symbolic art “is like a mirror that, while remaining itself, constantly displays different images, depending on the person who looks in it.” Images combined together help to define each other and make a larger statement. They offer the potential of creating an art laden with rich and substantive meaning, capable of communicating very profound ideas.

All through the 1970s and later, I familiarized myself with the history of art as it involved the mythic, symbolic, and surreal. This was not only a search for inspiration, but also a study of how other artists expressed ideas and worked with symbols. Among my favorite artists are the Symbolists Gustave Moreau and Jean Delville; Surrealists Remedios Varo, Rene Magritte, and Salvador Dali; and Fantastic Realist/Visionary painters Johfra, Ernst Fuchs, Alex Grey, and Ingo Swann. Concurrent with this effort was a study of philosophy, both Eastern and Western.

In the 1980s I became interested in painting. By then I had learned the limitations of collage, and wanted to take my expression into colors and explore imagery for which I had inadequate source material. In 1981 I spent time in France with Dr. Jean Letschert, a Belgian artist and former student of Rene Magritte. He had gained a reputation in India as a respected yogi, and in his art blended a surreal style with mythic symbolism influenced by a deep understanding of Eastern and Western philosophical ideas and the depth psychology of Carl Jung. I also met members of a Dutch group of Fantastic Realist/Visionary artists known as the Metarealists. On my return to New York I met former students of Ernst Fuchs, a founding member of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. From one, Carlos Madrid, I learned the old master technique as taught by Fuchs.

My paintings have explored some of the same symbolic themes I began and continue to do as a collage artist. In the past two years I have learned to digitally colorize these collages, so I have been reworking some of the best. My color choices in this series often reflect my early love of psychedelic art. Generally speaking, my images are an attempt to tap into an archetypal reality, one that to my mind seems both timeless and deeply human. Thus I feel less like I am part of some modern trend but rather I am one following a well-trodden and ancient path, a path known not only to artists, but poets and others who have tried to express what is ultimately mysterious and ineffable. My mentor, Dr. Jean Letschert, coined a phrase for it, he called it being “a monk in the order of the marvelous.”