Harold Garde (b. 1923), a native New Yorker and the son of immigrant parents from Central Europe, graduated from the prestigious Stuyvesant High School and attended City College where he was a science major with little familiarity with art. He enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1942 and was stationed in the Philippines. During his three years in the army he felt that his horizons broadened as he met and gravitated toward people interested in the arts. Learning that the G.I. Bill would provide him with an opportunity to continue his education, he decided to enroll at the University of Wyoming in Laramie with the intention of becoming a teacher.
Since he had already accumulated a number of academic credits in his pre-war education, he signed up for a studio art course. It happened that the professor of painting was George McNeil, a veteran of the Hans Hofmann School and the Federal Art Project and a forceful expressionist painter. The encounter with McNeil determined Garde’s commitment to art and started him on the way to becoming an expressionist himself. After a year McNeil was replaced by the non-objective painter Ilya Bolotowsky from whom Garde learned about structure and composition, something that still underlies even the most wildly gestural of his works. In 1948 Leon Kelly joined the faculty, bringing with him strong surrealist tendencies and a first-hand knowledge of the Surrealist refugee artists who showed at the Julian Levy Gallery where Kelly also exhibited. This meant that compressed into Garde’s studio experience were three of the major forces in the art of the day: expressionism, abstraction, and surrealism, all of which can be seen interacting in his uninhibited approach to painting. To complete his teaching credentials, Garde then attended Columbia Teachers College where he was very much in touch with the new vigorous, open-ended approach to painting that was on the rise at mid-century. His painting of the 1950s is instantly recognizable as belonging to that period of artistic upheaval. The strong, angular brushstrokes, warring darks and lights, scrawled letters and numbers, ephemeral figures, and sustained intensity of execution all are hallmarks of that time when artists faced an empty canvas and followed where the impulsive action of their brushstrokes led. Now retired after a long teaching career Garde continues to paint with expressionist force in his studios in Belfast, Maine and New Smyrna Beach, Florida.