Book Review by Vinita Agrawal

The Renaissance Man
Rob Harle
A Study Of His Artistic Universe

Edited by Sunil Sharma & Sangeeta Sharma
Published by AuthorsPress, New Delhi. 2015
pp.209. $20 USD 395 Rs
www.authorspressbooks.com

ISBN No: 978-93-5207-014-5

Multi-Dimensional Forays Of One Man Into The Universe Of Art

“... within the matrix that forms this planet there are many hidden equations breathlessly waiting to have their unrequited genius discovered by a humanity that has been led to believe it is powerless in its imagination to make a difference”.
                                                                                           Tonia  Haynes in The Renaissance Man

Rob Harle is that genius, that man described in the quote above - a phenomena - an artist to whom the universe speaks a special language through the voice of his soul. The Renaissance Man seeks to capture Rob's unique talents and align them in its pages - like assembling all the geniuses of the world under one roof, only, in Rob's case, the geniuses are all within one man. He is that one entity who approaches art from many dimensions and displays inordinate levels of accomplishment at whatever he does. The book is essentially a compilation of Rob Harle's work from the viewpoint of editors, writers, poets and critics - each focusing on one aspect of his art.
The writers are intimately familiar with his work and provide a global perspective on the depth of his art. The book, in that sense, rises above being a Indo Australian venture and becomes relevant to any individual across the globe.

Vivekananda Jha, in his essay on the multi faceted personality of Rob Harle, says:

"...his distinctiveness is expressed in the form of .... a draftsman, designer, electrician, artist, philosopher, psychotherapist, poet and author...ardent reviewer for print books and documentary films.... In his work, society, history, art, culture, philosophy, religion, myth, ideology, sociobiology, artificial as well as natural intellect homogeneously hone making his work an organic whole." (p.121i)                                                                                                                                                    

Vinita Agrawal
A handful of talents, by any standards! Anyone who knows Rob or any one who reads the book and learns about him knows that every single word of Jha's assessment is true. Rob truly is a man of multi-pronged artistic talents.

The book is divided into chapters penned by a plethora of experienced writers. The essays are followed by a review of Building Bridges - the Indo-Australian anthology he has compiled followed by nano appreciation verses in praise of his sculptures, poetry and digital artwork. Towards the end, the editors, Sunil and Sangeeta Sharma pay a befitting tribute to the Rob via a poem inspired by one of his breathtaking digital art piece and long literary interview and a tongue-in-cheek round of rapid fire questions.

In his piece on Rob's poetry, Aju Mukhopadhyay writes,

"Rob has written very few poems out of temporary passion and passing notion. He writes with full conviction about the subject matter of his poems... the outcomes of his philosophic mind ..." (p. 35)

There's something compelling about reading the words of a writer who's come face to face with his consciousness- or perhaps the essence of consciousness underlying all of mankind. Which is why, Elizabeth McCardell writes of Rob

"...how he works, reflects how he thinks and how he thinks reflects in how he works. It is in this that his genius lies. He produces work that enfleshes his basic philosophy."(p.37)                                                                                                                                                    
A little further she says

"Rob in exploring his own consciousness... is contributing to his own psycho-physiological healing." She quotes Rob from one of his academic papers titled Biobehavioural Basis Of Art (2008), saying - "With cultural dynamics and our very biology we create ourselves as we create art." A rather provocative thought that takes us back to the age old pantheism that we are our own Gods. That God manifests through us...and more startlingly, that perhaps there is no line of distinction between man and God. That we are the masters of our own destiny. Because, Rob's art manifests itself in various fine arts, McCardell rightly describes him as a  transdciplinary thinker". (p. 38)

In an attempt to understand Rob's verses. Gopal Lahiri, states

"Rob has turned space... into poetic opportunity. ... his poems showcase a world that struggles with cohesion and unity." (p. 54) He quotes Rob's own words:

What is it to be human?
Merely a silhouette of love and hate?

And, further

Our primitiveness is challenged daily,
by an insidious digital invasion.

Rob is an abashed, self-labeled futurist. Gopal Lahiri drives home the point that Rob has been essaying for a long time - that what is gratifying is also terrifying. In Rob's own words - we are "terrified of an unending future, yet horrified by the finite blackness of the past."

Jaydeep Sarangi, a poet, academician and critic from Kolkata, also pens his thoughts on Rob's poetry. He tries to summarize Rob's poetry published in two books - Scratches and Deeper Wounds and Mechanisms Of Desire. Sarangi focuses on the enigmatic nature of Rob's poetry. His approach is personal and engaging and easygoing. He quotes Rob himself in an attempt to define the poet's work - "My concern is to explore the phenomenon of consciousness and our 'apparent' aloneness in this universe." (p. 71) Most of his poems deal with both personal and collective
mosaic of his experiences, Sarangi adds.
PCK Prem, also contributes an essay on Rob's poetry to the book. He extracts some of the most moving and soul stirring verses from Rob's work. To quote a few: (pp. 76 -98)

Old human vessels sail slowly,
sometimes silently,
egos are the only terminal events in history
and dissolve when the river becomes the sea.
(Growing old - Time, Mechanisms of Desire)
**
And
My right to life and love and death
is carved in burning stone
...
**
And my personal favorite:
empty, heartless, barren
your life is a useless farce
...
when your children cower and freeze
in the sewer of your mind
**
( Betrayal- Scratches & Deeper Wounds)

The book also carries a brief biography of Rob Harle, authored by Jack Lister G Clark. There are several images of Rob's sculptures and digital art forms interspersed in the article. The visuals enable the reader to make an immediate connection with the artist behind the work. Rob's sculpture titled Sound of Silence is eye catching and moving. Another piece, called Depression is also extremely apt for the title it carries. His digital art called Young Cyborg too is a splendid representation of the futuristic youth.

Clark's biography traces the step by step progress of Rob's professional life, his formal education and the highlights of his career. Reading the essay, one concludes that Rob is indeed Australia's Nimbin settled, national treasure!

When the pages of the book veer towards Rob's career as a sculptor, we as readers learn fascinating facts about Rob's professional life as a carver of plaster stone, sandstone, camphor wood, terra-cotta and marble. Sandra Joran reveals that Rob's reclusive life on a remote country farm gave him " the freedom to develop his sculptural vision and skills and produce some of the finest pieces." She mentions that Rob considers Hawkesbury River valley as his spiritual home because according to him "here the sandstone, River and Australian bush exist in perfect harmony." (p.99 100)

Rob confesses in an interview towards the end of the book, that "the journey of the most serious artists in Australia is an arduous one. Australia is a cultural backwater...and to be always be up against this antipathy is quite soul destroying." (p.   165-166)

The essay by Sunil Sharma titled The Unseen Rob Harle is particularly memorable. The author confesses to Rob being his “long-distance friend and adopted elder brother”. His essay on Rob is personal and uncovers the angst and hurt simmering beneath the surface in Rob's life. It seeks to place Rob into a time frame. Of course it can't! Because, Sunil Sharma admits that Rob is a man ahead of his times...or in another sense, he lives in many ages simultaneously. Perhaps he lives “beyond the pale of time." In any case, he “disrupts temporal sequence”, he is a transcendental
being”. Sunil Sharma finally settles into calling him a mystic. The words in Sunil Sharma's tribute to Rob display palpable affection and immense respect for Rob the artist and the man. Clearly The Renaissance Man is labor of love for an artist who exceeds all expectations.

While the book captures and encapsulates the work and thoughts of Rob Harle for the present generation and for posterity, it is important to also remember the greater relevance of this book - namely the complete recognition by a few that one man can make a difference to our world. We must, each one of us, endeavor to be that person. And if we need a role model to look up to, someone who can inspire us on our individual journey, then Rob Harle has already set the path, shown the way. That in essence is the subtle message of this compelling book. It describes the extraordinary journey of a single man against all odds and in so doing, it motivates us to rise
above mediocrity and complacence in the pursuit of of our own lives.

*********
Author of three books of poetry, Vinita is a Mumbai based, award winning poet and writer. Recipient of the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence, USA, 2015, her poems have appeared in Asiancha, Constellations, The Fox Chase Review, Pea River Journal, Open Road Review, Stockholm Literary Review, Poetry Pacific, Mithila Review and over a 100 other national and international journals.  She is contributing editor for wwww.thewomaninc.com. She was nominated for the Best of the Net Awards in 2011. She was awarded first prize in the Wordweavers Contest 2014, commendation prize in the All India Poetry Competition 2014 and won the 2014 Hour of Writes Contest thrice. Her poems have found a place in significant national and international anthologies. She has read at SAARC events, at the U.S. Consulate, at Delhi Poetree and at Cappucino Readings, Mumbai. She can be reached at https://www.pw.org/content/vinita_agrawal and at www.vinitawords.com*********