Thoughts on the Art of
It is said that Michelangelo
saw in the veins of a freshly cut block of marble the prophets,
saints and angels who would be set free by the sculptor's tools.
Irving Stone, in his novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy,
describes the inspiration of the artist's Sistine Chapel ceiling
in the cloud formations that he experienced in the mountains
of Carrara. Great art through time so very often has at its core
the artist's response to natural phenomena.
The art of Michael Hardesty
explores and exploits the wonder and the mystery of the natural
world but does so through a purely poetic filter. In utilizing
technology to recreate a particular kind of light, sound or structure,
Hardesty reaches for that sense of awe nature offers up to those
of us patient enough to discover it. To that end much of what
Hardesty creates has at its base an experience recalled. Once
we enter Hardesty's world, we can never quite respond to nature,
or in fact to art, in quite the same way. His art amplifies the
unexplainable and pushes our response to it.
I will never forget the sense-boggling
thrill of experiencing Hardesty's "Polar Event," an
early and remarkable installation employing controlled light,
sound and atmospheric effects. One never quite understood its
theme (at least its title hinted at a narrative). But once in
the space, Hardesty quietly and methodically worked the senses
and indeed the mind as well. The dominant element of the installation
was a large, circular, translucent form with inner and outer
illumination. The form appeared to float within the foggy environment.
The work literally toyed with our imagination, as most of his
pieces seem to do, while we carry into the work our own notions
as to its significance.
One has to marvel at Hardesty's
ability to grab and hold his audience for optimal effect using
any technology.within his grasp. In 1916, the "Futurist
Manifesto" described a world in which new approaches would
break down barriers and build a bridge over the gap between art
and life. In this postmodern world of endless diversions, Hardesty's
accomplishment is that his art is formed by melding his own imagination
with that of his public. Hardesty's art is always the "What
if...," an open-ended invitation into a universe where anything
Louis Zona, Director
The Butler Institute of American Art
Early years to 1980
Michael Hardesty was born in 1952 in Louisville,
Kentucky, the middle of eight siblings. His early years were
full of activity. But he escaped this communal upbringing in
part; finding time to be alone, drawing dinosaurs, carving soap
animals, building tree forts, fashioning medieval shields, swords,
and lances for play, customizing his bicycle, even designing
a motorized go-cart. Right out of the box, he was clearly a creator.
Oddly, he had little formal training in fine art
until going to college, in 1970. Once there, he took to it immediately.
His early study was in the academic forms of drawing and painting,
rendering still lifes, figuration. "It taught me the fundamentals...how
to 'see.' For that, I'm eternally grateful," he says.
Hardesty distinguished himself in his first and
second years by winning interstate awards in painting, and proved
himself equally talented in sculpture, ceramics, and printmaking.
Says a former colleague, "He couldn't be tied down to any
single medium, he absorbed it all like a sponge." After
6 years, Hardesty graduated Eastern Kentucky University with
that school's very first Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Hardesty
jokes about that time, "The school couldn't get rid of me.
Everything interested me. It took 128 credits to graduate, but
I had amassed over 200 credits, taking sociology, psychology,
geography, geology, creative writing."
"Finally, I got a letter from the President's
office basically saying, 'Dear Mr. Hardesty, Please graduate,'
a request I honored the following semester."
Hardesty furthered his studies in 1974 - 1975 at
London's Central School of Art and Design, receiving a diploma
in printmaking. In summer, he hitchhiked alone around Europe
for a few months, seeing firsthand all the art he'd studied in
art history classes.
Back in the US, and concurrent with his undergraduate
work, Hardesty took a job as a set builder and on-air graphics
designer at the campus public television and radio station. It
was here he met the station's art director, Sandra Cundiff, a
gifted fine artist in her own right. They worked together for
years, becoming close friends. Eventually, this friendship grew
into a lifelong partnership.
His job at the TV studio afforded Hardesty an opportunity
to work earnestly on his art. He was granted use the studio's
cavernous set-building spaces to complete some very large, very
graphic paintings. As everyone seemed to like them, the paintings
were hung on the hall walls of the TV studio. When he departed
to attend graduate school, he was asked if he could just leave
them up until he returned.
"It was a lot longer than 3 years before I
saw those works again." says Hardesty. "I recall going
back to the TV studio 10 years later to take my works off the
walls and move them up to New York. As the station employees
saw me taking them down, there was a bit of a fuss. The works
had become a fixture. New employees had never seen the building
without the artworks. Some even questioned if I had the right
to claim them."
After his undergraduate matriculation, Hardesty
took a job as art director at CBS affiliate station WKYT-TV in
Lexington, Kentucky. The job was a demanding one, not only designing
and building sets but creating on-air graphics and print ads.
Hardesty made good money, but found corporate television to be
less creative than public television. Also, the heavy workload
kept him from what he most enjoyed, making fine art. Further,
it kept him 30 miles from his close friend, Cundiff. After 2
years, he left commercial television. Nevertheless, that time
spent at WKYT provided him valuble corporate experience for his