Matthew Harding was born in Sydney in 1964. Initially trained in carpentry and joinery, he went on to study art at Hamilton TAFE and later at the National Institute of the Arts, Canberra, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours) in 1995. In 1998 he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study figurative sculpture in Western Europe. More recently he was a recipient of a prestigious 2003 ACT Creative Arts Fellowship.
Over the past two decades Harding has been selected for numerous group exhibitions, including the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award in 2003, the 2003 National Sculpture Prize at the National Gallery of Australia, Chicago's 2002 Sculptural Objects and Functional Art exhibit, Sculpture by the Sea in 2002 and 1999, Surface and Form - Craft West Perth in 2002, and the Inami International Wood Sculpture Symposium, Japan in 1999. He has held three solo exhibitions, most recently Concentric, a collection of recent furniture pieces, at Craft ACT Gallery in 2001.
He won the Outsite site-specific sculpture symposium prize at Alice Springs in 2001 and the National Carving Competition in 1999. Harding has undertaken many commissions, including major public art projects in the ACT, Sydney, Newcastle and China.
Harding's commitment to the development of Australia's design identity has seen him lecture in design at the Canberra School of Art and speak at international design forums including last year's Designing Futures Conference in Perth. In June 2003 he will be visiting the Australian School of Fine Furniture in Launceston to run a project with current students before heading to Perth to undertake a residency with Craftwest. Matthew is now based in Melbourne.
Matthew Harding brings a unique sculptural vision to his work as a designer. As well as creating visually challenging and radically functional pieces of furniture, Harding maintains a full-time practice as a professional sculptor, regularly undertaking large-scale civic art projects. His work is characterised by a deep appreciation of form, structure and function, which has been shaped by a background encompassing the visual arts, design and construction industries. He is accomplished in working with a broad range of materials including wood, stone, steel and bronze. Harding has evolved a lateral and inter-disciplinary approach to design. His functional art pieces are characterised by imaginative structural solutions, a geometric articulation of form and an ability to push the bounds of accepted possibilities.
Matthew’s furniture designs employ minimal material and lineal forms to create a structural dynamics that has a strong visual impact. This is most evident in his chaise lounge, ‘Sprung’ which relies on risky engineering to withstand both the stresses of the woven monofilament and the weights of the sitter. Another piece ‘Ellipse’, which is a meditation chair of chaise proportions, moves well away from formal planes of function. The Pelican chair takes these principles and adds the poetic form of a pelican that emerges as you move around the chair. This chair can also be engage with in both the traditional and straddle seating positions.
Matthew describes these chairs as ‘investigations into woven forms, whereby the weave defines ergonomic support and strengthens the structure’. He frequently uses laminated timber as a way of gaining the necessary component strength to maintain the visual integrity of his designs. It is this gestural simplicity of line combined with extreme rationalisation of structure that underlies Matthew’s design aesthetics.
An example of his furniture design was a solo exhibition, titled 'Concentric'. The name of the exhibition was drawn from its dominant aesthetic of repeated circles and squares, which utilised industrial processes such as laser cutting and CNC (computer numeric controlled) routing. The exhibition's intent was to orchestrate a theme played out by a machine. "The computer programs I write are not sophisticated and are designed to perform actions that machines, such as the laser cutter, can easily follow - simple geometry enabling small file sizes for e-mailing, repetitious elements with simple scaling, minimal non-cutting distance and little-to no material wastage."
"My design aesthetic has its foundations in my father's passion for boat construction and design. He describes a good hull line as 'poetry in motion'. Other strong aesthetic influences stem from natural geometries and my attempts to explore connections between the macro and micro worlds around us."
Inspired by wooden tennis rackets, the Poise chair suspends the sitter.
"The idea is to use minimal structure and materials to maximum effect," says Harding, a sculptor, furniture designer and craftsman whose designs range from a 12-metre woven steel cable sculpture in China to smaller objects such as the Poise.
On display at the gallery in Laminated Brimsply.
Photographed chair: Hoop pine