Donald Harvey immigrated to Canada from England in 1958 and joined the Education department at Victoria College in 1961. With colleague John Dobereiner, he was one of the founding members of the University of Victoria’s Department of Visual Arts, which was first established in 1966. He was appointed as Full Professor in 1975 and served several terms as chair of the department. He maintained a rigorous schedule of teaching, administrative duties, and professional artistic practice throughout his thirty-year career at UVic.
Harvey’s paintings, prints, and drawings have received significant international recognition, and his work has been exhibited in the National Gallery of Canada, the Seattle Art Museum, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Le Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He completed a National Diploma of Painting and Design at West Sussex College of Art in 1950 and an Art Teacher’s Diploma at Brighton College of Art the following year. He was an art instructor in Wales for four years and travelled Sicily and Spain, where he painted for a year before coming to Canada.
His early work is chiefly non-representational, while his later work draws more directly from nature, both flora and fauna, gardens and landscapes in general. He once described his vocation as an abstract painter to be a lonely one, as “no one really understands what you do. Everything’s an abstraction, except the real thing.”
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Harvey spent several months in France, where he reframed his artistic representation of abstracted landscape. Upon his return, he created a series of diamond-shaped abstract works as a means to challenge the lateral landscape format and the notion of the representational “window onto the world” that rectangular paintings often suggest. Large-scale works such as Black Diamond No. 3 include an off-centre central inset shape, sharply defined wedges of bare canvas, hard-edged areas of flat smooth opaque paint and areas of more painterly brushwork.
His work in the late 1980s often referenced the environment. In 1988, he and colleague Douglas Morton joined a host of artists who painted the Stein and Carmanah Valleys and donated the proceeds of their work to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. Harvey also painted a large-scale mural The Carmanah Valley Experience, an installation of 31 abstract expressionist painted panels that are five feet high and up to six feet wide, which was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and is now in the collection of the University of Victoria.