Jeffrey Harris

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Media Release: November, 2005. 

This summer, City Gallery Wellington invites you to enter the singular and dramatic world of Jeffrey Harris.

This sweeping survey exhibition draws on 35 years of Jeffrey Harris’s art-making, encompassing a variety of media (from painting to etching) and tracking the changes and developments in his work. A touring exhibition from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Jeffrey Harris is presented at City Gallery Wellington with the support of Telecom.

“Good art comes of struggle,” Harris once said, “and should show signs of that struggle.” Born in Akaroa in 1949, Harris is a self-taught artist, part of the generation that includes Philip Clairmont, Tony Fomison, Michael Smither and Ralph Hotere, the latter two of whom encouraged him to take up painting full-time in 1970.

Harris is probably best known in New Zealand for his figurative paintings of the 1970s and early 1980s: highly symbolic scenes of couples and domestic groups (once described by the artist as a “diary of painted pain”) which explored the intricacies of relationships and the complexity of domestic life.

A shift to Melbourne in 1986 to take up an artist’s residency marked a new period in Harris’s work. Coming to see the autobiographical reading of his earlier work as a limitation, Harris felt the need to pare back his paintings, and his work moved in an increasingly abstract direction. From lush, colourful multi-panelled works that reflected his early experiences of the sun and heat of his new city home, Harris kept refining and reducing, eventually working in the colours of a burnt-out landscape: black, white, ash, charcoal. In these large canvases, the viewer is faced with pouring torrents of black and white pigment, that achieve Harris’s aim of creating paintings that could not “be interpreted as anything else but painting”.

Harris returned to Dunedin four years ago. Since that time, his work has taken another turn, including the From Dream series, with its biomorphic masses and tumbling skull shapes, and a set of unflinching self-portraits. Despite the varied nature of his work, exhibition curator Justin Paton identifies Harris’s faith in painting as (in the artist’s words) “a condensation of experience and intensity”, as the thread that brings it all together.

Described by critic David Eggleton as a “ferocious display of art that …roars like the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion”, this exhibition is an unmissable opportunity to delve into the rich interior world of one of New Zealand’s leading artists.

City Gallery Wellington Director Paula Savage says: “It is a privilege to bring this astounding body of work to Wellington. Curator Justin Paton has done a superb job of bringing together a selection of works that demonstrate the power and emotion of Jeffrey Harris’s painting. As always, we are extremely grateful to Telecom, for joining with us once again in presenting the best of contemporary New Zealand art to the Wellington audience.”

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JEFFREY HARRIS

City Gallery Wellington

13 November 2005 – 6 February 2006

Free entry

A Dunedin Public Art Gallery touring exhibition

Principal Sponsor: Telecom NZ Ltd