"Simon Harling is another artist obsessed with the American scene and American cars. Born somewhere as quintessentially English as Colchester, and owing his professional training to the London College of Printing, of all places, he has spent a considerable amount of time in America. He has also exhibited extensively there – indeed, between 1990 and 2005 he hardly exhibited anywhere else – and an impressive number of corporate collections have added his work to their holdings. While his view of America is therefore presumably based on more direct observation than some of his fellow artists in Exactitude who romanticize the wastelands of urban America, there is still no doubt something irreducibly foreign about the way Harling sees things there. That may, indeed, be precisely what Americans like about his work.
At the moment he is engaged in an ongoing series of paintings that originate in an 80's photographic essay called The Red Couch. Two German photographers took a dilapidated red couch round America, placing it in various locations, likely and unlikely, in order to observe it bouncing off, as it were, its various environments. Fine, thought Harling, but wouldn’t it be better to take as inspiration a real embodiment of American culture, like a 1989 General Motors Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham? So, in 2005, he set out to drive across America in just such a vehicle, and immortalize it in the landscape wherever he went. The paintings that resulted from this road trip are minutely accurate, and at the same time intensely atmospheric and evocative. You might expect them to belong to the world of Edward Hopper, but instead they belong to the world of Algernon Newton; American landscapes painted with an English eye." John Russell Taylor. 'Exactitude - Hyperrealism Today' 2009.
"Landscape painting, with its long tradition, remains one of the most challenging genres for a contemporary artist. There is no greater test for an artist than having to convey in an original manner a subject that may have been rendered before by scores of others. This show presented two outstanding contemporary landscape painters whose work is highly evocative and individualistic. Both work on the spot and in the studio, but they approach their subjects in very different ways.
Harling is a meticulous realist whose pictures are even more precise than those made by a camera. Attracted to panoramic views of the English countryside and famous British sites, including Stonehenge, Harling demonstrates a remarkable ability to build thoroughly integrated compositions that impress us with their overall quality and their details. His method is strikingly revealed in Cerrig Duon Stone Circle, Wales. Here the separate blades of grass in a lush green field form the starting point for a wonderful journey through a lyrical image." - Ronny Cohen. Artnews. July 1985.
"Simon Harling works small and tight...He incises almost as much as he draws.
If there is a look of American Luminist painting about the scroll of the waves in one of his seascapes, it is doubtless because the subject matter - Mount Desert Island in Maine - is prime luminist territory. But he gives a distinctive local look to landscape in England and Ireland too." - John Russell. New York Times. May 17, 1985
"His paintings have the love of detail and refinement found in the last century.
Mr Harling's landscapes are realistic and show a superb technique, with emphasis on clouds to give the mood to what he is expressing." - Hope D. Brock. Artworld. May 1985.
"Fifteen paintings by Simon Harling are the first the visitor sees and they have a photographic quality with a richness only painting can bring. A central theme is the ways by which humans travel - by road, by boat, in the air - without a single human portrayed. The landscape or cityscape dominates in colors and textures that absolutely pull the viewer in - you are there. Street lights, approaching headlights or city lights in the gathering darkness appear in a number of the paintings, which give them a slightly melancholy feel. 'Dividing Line' is reminiscent of Vermont with woods in the background, a deer standing in the road and headlights of an approaching car visible in the distance. 'Logan at Dusk' perfectly depicts the Boston skyline on a summer evening; the country road series - T Junction, Fork and Crossroad are wonderful small paintings evocative of the lonely roads we all occasionally travel". - Sarah May Clarkson. Arlington Banner. July 1994.
"Harling's automobile paintings exemplify the ambivalence with which most people in the early third millennium viewed this Frankenstein's monster that had enslaved the planet with its ceaseless demands for bigger highways, more parking space, and its insatiable hunger for petroleum, that became towards the end more expensive than the cars themselves at $25,000 per gallon. Just as Titian conveys something of the ruthlessness and wickedness of which his Renaissance courtiers were capable, so Harling's automobiles --- properly categorized as portraits too --- exude an aura of menace and danger. Elegant and shiny as they are, their existence stands in stark contrast to the beauty of the natural world they are in the process of destroying. The foreboding presence of a thunderhead is almost serene and idyllic compared with the metallic threat of the vehicle below it, which seems to lurk in wait on a side-road for unwary travelers, or is perhaps speeding away from the deed it has just committed in the peaceful heart of the countryside behind it. Another landscape would be as tranquil as one of Constable's works, were it not for the car that has pulled over for no apparent reason. There is no home or laneway nearby. Why has it stopped there? Whatever the purpose, Harling lets us know it is a sinister one, redolent of evil-doing and violence -- for his automobiles are never benign, embodying all the worst flaws and excesses of those who drive them, with the added horror of implied mindlessness, of crimes committed for no reason besides the pleasure of the act itself.
Harling also reveals the car as an entity whose existence contains its own doom. Much like the dinosaurs whose remains had become their fuel, the cars seem to recognize their days are numbered, and yet they continue on this road leading nowhere because they are unable to do anything else and there has never been another path for them to take. If for no other reason than this, the automobile has rightly become the greatest symbol for an age that very nearly was the last of all ages on this planet, an age from which we have only just begun to emerge intact by the grace of God.
One is reminded of the lines by that great prophet of post-automobilism, Syd Barrett: “I have got a bike/You can ride it if you like/ It's a good bike...” Had more attention been paid to the warnings of men like Barrett and Harling we might have started riding our good bikes early enough to halt the meltdown of artic glaciers that sank the whole continent of Europe along with all the treasures we now know merely from images in those histories of the world that contain only Europe's history -- and were its epitaph..." - Paul William Roberts. From “Art of the Early Third Millennium”