Monday, April 6, 2015
Brent Harris: Dreamer
There's no contemporary Australian artist I admire more than Brent Harris. Is there another artist as inventive, courageous, surprising and plain well skilled? Can't think of one. Sometimes when someone has had such a consistent, prolific practice – and Harris has exhibited prodigiously for 30 years – it's difficult to know where to begin? As an artist who has worked across printmaking and painting there's a lot to account for. I'm not going to attempt it here (though keep an eye out for a forthcoming article by M Zagala – she's putting some ideas together on Harris' printmaking in long form). If Harris' current exhibition is anything to go by he is in the rare situation of being both a critical and commercial success.
Dreamer is a beautiful exhibition. I liked the hang that positioned Harris' small canvases close to Tolarno's gallery entry. They have a vignette-like quality, a shifting plane of figurative and abstract elements that recall the figure groupings of religious Italian Renaissance paintings by way of Turner. Harris' brush work is a riveting combination of flat scrubbed back surfaces overlaid with buttery paint strokes. But Harris' real gift to the viewer is the way in which he brings the process to the fore. There is a sense of chance, discovery and serendipity articulated in the compositions that might appear tentative but actually reflect Harris' enormous experience.
In the larger canvases whimsical faces emerge, some tiny little proto-beings, not more than graphic linear gestures animated by cartoon-like eyes. I was intrigued by the different propositions contained in single works – late 19th century landscape traditions, psychedelic colours, and the human form. In all the paintings it's the human figure – searching, fugitive – that lend these abstracted landscapes a slightly unsettling quality. In them the spectre of the unconscious hovers like an inky presence drawing together the complex spheres of the social, sexual and religious.
12 February - 4 April 2015
Images courtesy of Tolarno Galleries