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Secretive Stones With Links to a Primitive Past

SOMETHING about their simplicity and relatively small scale, their discreetly controlled but still natural forms, and even the beautiful way in which the different colored stone of their elements is carved and finished, makes me think that sculptures by Jake Harvey would not be completely out of place in an ancient Japanese tea garden.

Such a response may well risk their maker's disapproval, because he belongs to a culture far removed from Japan, and to a landscape untamed by the scrupulous judgments and endless attentiveness of Buddhist monks.

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Harvey is Scottish born and bred, and lives southeast of Edinburgh in the Borders, not far from the round-backed Cheviot Hills and ``a stone's throw,'' as art historian Douglas Hall aptly puts it, from the River Tweed.

Hall (in one of two essays for a recent retrospective of the sculptor's work) adds: ``We may be certain that [Harvey] will not forget the sources of his art, especially as he still lives among them.'' Although Harvey's recent sculpture - ``Nostalgic Place'' for example - represents what Hall describes as ``a less imagist phase'' in his earlier work, it is still seen as rooted in Scotland. Many of these earlier pieces, made of steel, have contained recognizable images, symbolic or pertaining to landscape. But a new kind of privacy, or secrecy, is inherent in these more recent works, with a resultant universality.

I do not know whether Harvey has any interest in Japanese art, but even some of his imagist pieces, where he has made pictures against the light by shapes cut out in steel, are surprisingly like the old Japanese iron sword guards, which quite often incorporated clouds, trees, and the moon, just as Harvey's sculptures do.

Closer to home, though, is the work of sculptors in steel like Julio Gonzalez and David Smith. In each case, Harvey has made what he has seen elsewhere distinctly his own.

Stone carvings such as ``Nostalgic Place'' are, however, even more his own. Art historian Duncan Macmillan, in the second catalog essay for the retrospective, links these pieces with ``objects surviving from the remote past.''

Macmillan calls them ``transcendental.'' They may find progenitors in some of the perfectly simplified forms of the 20th-century Rumanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi; and - though small and pristine - they suggest a primeval archaism as if they are inexplicable artifacts discovered by archaeologists from the times when paleolithic man was dotting the landscape with stone circles, cromlechs, standing and holed stones, quoits and dolmens.

With a self-contained strangeness, they propose forgotten meanings perhaps having to do with fruitfulness or birth.

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On the other hand, they might be no more than useful objects, once employed to perform some daily domestic task with which we have lost touch. They are not only uncannily dignified. They are also oddly humble.

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