The ’80s cult classics are taking over Instagram
A ribbed tank top, a cardboard box, a berry carton. What might seem like a collection of ordinary objects found in cluttered living spaces happens to be a running list of ceramicist Michael Harvey’s former muses. Over the past six months, the work of the Canadian artist—who hasn’t sold new sculptures since the 1980s—has grown ultra-popular among interior decor enthusiasts.
Michael’s output is limited enough that it can be hard to track down his work, but not so rare that it’s impossible. Once you’re in the know about where to look, it’s easy to spot one of his works—his art is understated and his purview specific, bringing to mind the painter Alex Colville, whose work is similarly bucolic and also surprisingly contemporary. Beyond the aforementioned ceramics, Harvey has also molded vases in the form of gardener’s boots, paper bags, faux denim baseball caps, and gloves, all with an attention to detail that will induce a double take.
The Harvey ceramics are something of a predecessor to the work of similarly playful (and popular) contemporary ceramicists like Original Rose and Group Partner. Original Rose’s works are an accidental metropolitan update of Harvey’s, with a wide range of head-turning planters modeled after sneakers, ball caps, and coffee cups. Group Partner’s work is certainly more cartoonish than OR’s and Harvey’s realist representations, but they share an attractive cheekiness.
“Harvey’s work is a neutral Pop art, and it’s a conversation starter,” says Kaleila Ahulani of Doily Heart LA. “Whatever style you have, whether [your space is] kitschy or very masculine—wood paneling, brown leather—it could fit in there, so I think that that’s where the attraction is.”
Beyond just the aesthetic, the fact that Michael Harvey no longer makes ceramics is, for some, the biggest thrill of collecting them. “There’s a mysterious excitement about the artist himself,” says Margaret Kelley of Round Plump Apple. “I think that all of that adds to the allure of his pieces and the fact that they’re so hard to come by.”
Since finding his first Michael Harvey pieces—a tank-top vase and a paper-bag vase—four years ago, Nathan Needle of N.R. Needle has been an admirer. He has since resold 10 of Michael’s pieces, all of which were snapped up within a day. “The moment you post it, you get inquiries,” he says. “I made my little foster home of Michael Harvey stuff, and then it moves on to a happy home.”
Michael’s pieces are interesting to many, even those who may not generally be attracted to Pop art. So as more people continue to find out about his work, the spike in consumer interest causes—you guessed it—a spike in price. “Michael Harvey’s work is almost too expensive to buy now,” explains Nathan. “To buy it and resell it, to flip it, you’re making a small amount. It’s down to eBay sometimes—who can get up earliest, set their alarm, and win the bid.”
Prices vary, but no matter who you ask, they’ll tell you the range these days is far from the not-so-distant past when you could find a Michael Harvey at your local thrift store for just a few bucks. Doily Heart LA sold its first pieces, a tank top and a vase together, this past February. For Kaleila, the prices fluctuate—tank vases have gone for different prices depending on the size and color, and the gardening-glove vases. As the demand continues to increase, prices will only grow higher—Round Plump Apple is currently selling a large tank vase on Etsy being pricey. While the tank and paper-bag vases are his most widely known pieces, the ceramic gardening-glove vase, cardboard-box vessel, and cardboard teapot are rarer and thus the most sought after among fans.
The appetite for Michael's pieces isn’t only growing among new buyers—it turns out that buying a Michael Harvey piece is often a gateway to, well, buying another Michael Harvey piece. “Some of my clients are diehard Michael Harvey fans and they have collected almost all of his work; they’re just looking for a few more pieces,” says Kaleila. “So for me, the biggest joy is when you’re able to find that one last piece they need to add to their collection.” Nathan shares a similar experience, noting that “most people don’t even want me to post it [on Instagram]; they want me to send it directly to them after they bought one.”
As we all attempt to find more balance in the aftermath of the pandemic, it seems that some people have found comfort in home decor objects that embody the very essence of normality.
Original article appeared on Architectural Digest | Author Rachel Davies