So often the first reaction to Opus 40 is incredulity...how could one man have done it, even over forty years?
And I understand the reaction. It is mind-boggling to imagine one man doing it, even over forty years. And Lord knows it makes a lot more sense than my all-time favorite comment, which was dumb enough that only an art critic could have made it:
"I see such anger there!"
Well, OK. It's forty years of a man's life, and every emotion he ever felt has to have found its way there to some degree. You want to see anger, you can probably find it. But it's not going to be the first thing that leaps to everyone's mind.
And as immense as the undertaking seems, it's even more so when you consider how much of it was worked and reworked.
If you walk around to the south side of Opus 40 (marked with the arrow in the picture) you'll see an area where the stonework is more rough-hewn, without the lapidary precision that marks most of Opus 40. So you'd assume that represents early work, while he was still learning his craft, and you would of course be correct.
But why start there? Why not with the front ramp, or the central circles? And the answer, of course, is that he did start with the front ramp and the central circles. And as he developed his technique, he tore down those walls and rebuilt them.
Also, since his work was organic, not conceptual -- it grew from the work itself, not from a preconceived plan or architectural renderings -- he would sometimes find that the curve of a line, or the placement of a wall, was not quite right. So he'd tear it down, and rebuild it. The painter Peter Jones, who, like me, grew up hanging out at Opus 40, described it as: "In a way, Harvey was like a painter, and Opus 40 was his canvas. But where a painter will look at his work for a while, then take a palette knife and scrape off a little bit of paint from here and move it to there, Harvey would do the same thing with ten tons of stone."