ROBERT PATRICK HARRIS


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Ancient Greece is believed to be the template for Western Civilization. This is the reason I use the Greek flag as a template - to show people that these paintings are images of concepts. They are not pictures, interpretations, abstractions or non-objective artworks. The paintings are the ideas themselves. I don’t improvise. I take an image and imagine it painted on the template. It is then painted (as imagined) directly and perfectly as possible. The method of painting is precise, nearly eliminating gesture and the action of painting from the completed work. Anything extraneous to the idea that is the painting is avoided in the final result.

The bars in each painting disrupt the image and create a louvered surface - as if peeking through venetian blinds. The first time I saw this louvered design was in a scroll by Wang Hui, circa 1700. The painted mist in the scroll had the same effect that I now use to partially curtain an image. Rather than mist, my painted bars are sky.

The word ‘invention’ is a conundrum. Artists bend its meaning to support their working hypotheses, process and approach to painting – as do I. Facility in the handling and application of paint is an integral element of invention but they are not interchangeable terms. Facility and invention must co-exist in what is seen to be a good painting. Good painting must be original and to be original, it must be unlike other paintings. Originality can be observed: “People know it when they see it”. What they are seeing is an image of a new and original idea.

"Squeeze" is about being under pressure. Most of the people on the planet live their day-to-day existence under immense financial or political pressure, including me. On a similar theme, "Surge" depicts blackness seeping into a city.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded by scientists from the Manhattan Project in 1945. Since 1947, the Bulletin has maintained a Dooms Day Clock to inform the public about threats to the survival and development of humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change and disruptive technology. The clock's current setting is 2 minutes to midnight, indicating peril. I have painted a dooms day clock in siren colors - fluorescent red and yellow. By scrambling the clock faces, the painting posits that we have no idea when this event might occur.

Time is also scrambled in a set of four paintings on the standard time zones in the United States. Instead of telling time, they don’t tell time. Simple as that.

In another set of paintings, an image of the Cyclone roller coaster on Coney Island is employed. Cyclones (or, hurricanes) are becoming more frequent and powerful due to climate change and global warming. Each painting is named after one of the more severe and recent hurricanes. Some of the painted bars are blue, representing sky. Other bars are purple. Purple is used to show that there is blood in the sky. The artist and musician Prince explained purple rain as follows: "When there's blood in the sky - red and blue = purple . . . purple rain pertains to the end of the world." As a people, we have built this roller coaster of weather and now witness its path of beauty, devastation and death.

The painting, "Snow" can be installed measuring 3 and a half feet tall by twenty feet wide or 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It depicts four images of Mount Denali, Alaska. Half the snow is yellow, half the snow is white. As a child, my friends said: "Don't eat yellow snow" because it's been pissed on. White or yellow . . .

Earlier works emphasized content by using a cinematic arrangement, like a zoetrope. One sequential painting, Mother’s Milk (1995), is a landscape in the shape of a Guernsey cow, all its milk draining out in nine panels. After 1998, I shifted the paintings’ material substance from thick to thin. These works explored preternatural moments in our daily lives. The Pollock –Krasner Foundation provided critical financial support for this series, awarding a $20,000 grant in October of 2000. Ten years after, another set of works examined themes of life and death on a lake in northern Minnesota: The Mantrap Project. This project received a grant of $4,459 from United States Artists in Los Angeles. Since 1985, my work has received best in category or best in show at exhibitions in New York, Austin, Santa Fe and Los Alamos.

In 2005, I became Chair of the Fine Art Department at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos and began teaching courses in Painting, Drawing, Art History and Modern Art. Since 2013, I have built four separate online Art History courses and received a $3,500 Faculty Initiative Award in 2015 for the innovative design and instruction of these courses at UNM-LA.