When Donald Trump began making noises about pushing for import tariffs on foreign aluminum, it created a stir, maybe even more than normal. Any tariffs will only increase costs to the consumer, affecting a wide range of products across the board. Whether any of this has any impact on Stephen Harlan's resale prices is unclear, but since all that stuff is trending upward anyway, it probably doesn't matter. Harlan buys his sheets of aluminum in bulk, and uses them to create some of the most visually affecting art seen anywhere these days. In this area, he's exclusive to Phillip Anthony Signature Gallery in St. Augustine, and he will be there in person all weekend (Friday, March 30 through Easter Sunday, April 1) to debut some new pieces and to confab with collectors.
Stephen James Harlan was born in Minnesota, but he didn't stay there long, living in California, Washington DC and Maryland before settling in Wilmington, North Carolina a decade ago. But it was a childhood spent in Fort Myers that made a permanent influence on his life and art. Scenes of the beach and the ocean recur in his work, with the bright, almost psychedelic colors commonly associated with southern Florida. It's like a virtual Parrothead Fantasia, evocative of lazy days and busy nights.
Harlan made his name painting abstract images in California, but it was only fairly recently that he happened upon the style with which he is associated today. He creates the pieces using computers, decked out with special software that allows insane amounts of detail. The colors are added one pixel at a time, with his 21-inch monitor representing maybe a square inch of the finished piece, so a piece that sells at the size of a coffee table, say, would be the size of a school bus if presented at the same size it appears on the screen. The art is then reproduced onto large sheets of shiny, aircraft-quality aluminum, although you can get them on canvas, as well, if you like that matte look. Either way, to see them up close gives no indication that it's digital art; you'd swear it was fresh liquid paint.
What makes Harlan's work so special, besides the process itself, is its accessibility, which appeals to the largely tourist crowd that frequents the King Street art scene. The galleries stay open late, drawing in the freshly-stuffed and satiated pedestrian traffic with big, colorful canvases that catch the eye from across the street and down the block. Phillip Anthony's is just one of several galleries along that strip. It's been around for less than two years, but has already developed a solid reputation within that scene. The city is growing steadily, along the margins, and crowds are swelling in the interior, but they've managed to maintain its characteristic flavor while modernizing, almost imperceptibly.