A STATEMENT FROM THE ARTIST
The paintings are a kind of ‘social speech’ - addressing disorder, degradation, folly and similar themes. The work was very colorful until this year. I then decided to mollify the visual impact generated by color and now paint with a palette of black, white and robin’s egg blue.
The earlier, brightly colored works emphasized content by using a cinematic arrangement, placing multiple canvases in sequential order, 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 a sequence of nine panels.
Prior to 1998, the cinematic paintings were impasto and over an inch thick. After 1998, I shifted the paintings’ material substance from thick to thin. The ‘thin’ works explored seemingly preternatural elements in our daily lives and focused on incidents of spiritual and intellectual compression. Oedipus (2006) depicts a boy and mother at their private birthday party. Twins (2004) portray fraternal twins made-up as clowns. Mannequin heads resemble taxidermy in Spring (2006). The Pollock –Krasner Foundation provided critical financial support for this body of work, awarding a $20,000 grant in October of 2000.
Ten years after, another set of works received support. These paintings comprised the ManTrap project, which examined themes of life and death on a small lake in northern Minnesota. A grant of $4,459 from United States Artists in Los Angeles funded this series during 2011.
I am now creating a series of paintings that resemble flags. Some employ cruciform designs that are apparent when the painting is installed vertically, charging it with iconic symbolism. Lobster Flag (2013) is a white cross on green ground with barbed wire, an abstract lobster and silhouettes of Picasso on medallions. The lobster, barbed wire, medallions, and cross attempt to query the art of Picasso and Johns on issues of content. This questioning is amplified and expanded in a second painting, Black Egg Flag (2013), which includes a facsimile of Johns’ “Cups 2 Picasso” (1973).
Other flag paintings include Bipolar Blue (2013) and Bipolar Red (2013). Polar bears are submersed in circles of blue water in Bipolar Blue while Bipolar Red represents the impact of global warming on Polar bear habitat. Two other paintings, Dodo Flag (2013) and Milk Flag (2013), directly reference “Flag”(1954) by Johns. A white, negative image of a dodo replaces the stars located in the canton area in Dodo Flag. In Milk Flag, a white, negative image of a Guernsey cow with a topographical map on its side displaces stars in the canton area of the flag. These paintings address concepts of empire, nationality, extinction and catalyze a parallel discussion with Johns’ “Flag” as a concomitant result.
In 2014, I began to use the national flag of Greece as an element in the paintings. American society often points to the principles and philosophy of ancient Greece as a foundation and touchstone for contemporary civilization and this relationship is integral to the ideas expressed in these paintings.
Robin, Rain (2014) places a robin in the canton area and employs gray flag bars as rain, reducing water to an abstraction. In Reversible Robin (2014), the canton-area robin is flipped and flopped (“flip” is an editing term for turning a piece of footage upside down, while “flop” means to make the footage perspectively backwards). This editing technique is essential to the design of my current paintings. Flip and flop editing was effectively used in “Mapping the Studio II with color shift, flip, flop & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage) All Action Edit” by Bruce Nauman in 2001.
In the current paintings, a Greek flag is painted in enamels with tape and rollers – a production method. The black, gray and white images in the canton areas are painted by hand in an ink wash technique similar to sumi painting. (Works italicized in the next three paragraphs painted in 2014).
Deer, Wood, Sky reduces the sky to an abstraction amidst a forest of leafless trees. Black Polar Flag replaces the white (ice) bars in the flag with black bars, indicating a void. The bears in Reversible Polar Flag are flipped and flopped, suggesting dislocation and suspension. However, the title states that this condition may be reversed. (Flip, Flop) Hella Loon Flag puns national identity. The Greek name for Greece is Hellas. ‘Hella’ (international slang lexicon) is a contraction of the phrase: “hell of a” or, “hell of a lot (of)” so, the title is equivalent to saying: “(Flip, Flop) Hell of a Loon Flag”. Flip Flop is a common word for sandals and this pun implies walking on the flag. Walking on a flip flop flag indicates that this work relies on Johns and Nauman for support while simultaneously disrespecting the support of Johns and Nauman i.e., ‘walking’ on their work.
Queen is a flopped image whose theme is status and position. In his sculpture, “William Crawford” (1843), John Hogan created this image (woman & crown of brick) as an allegorical personification of the city of Cork. Weighted down by her crown, the queen seems to be talking on a cell phone. In another painting, Spectre, the queen’s crown of brick has morphed into an antlered crown of thorns.
Today is Veteran’s Day and I am working on an anti-war painting: Arlington. Each cross is painted in the same perspective, meaning that you are standing in the exact same spot in front of each grave, one at a time. In the alternating white bars of the flag, the crosses are flopped. That means you visually track one bar of crosses from left to right and the next bar (of crosses) from right to left – like walking up and down the rows at Arlington National Cemetery. The crosses are black.
A chronology and description of my artistic career, outside employment, education, exhibitions and awards is here included. A Bachelor of Science in Fine Art was awarded in 1977 by South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. A Master of Fine Arts degree was conferred in 1981 by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School, Madison, WI. In 1985, while serving as Director of the Civic Fine Arts Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, my painting Die Laughing (1984) won First Place: Painting, in an international exhibit organized by Scarsdale/Metro Art in New York City. Also in 1985, Hamburger High School (1985) received First Award in New American Talent, a nationwide art competition and exhibition at Laguna Gloria Art Museum in Austin, Texas. This led to a solo show at the Harris Gallery in Houston, Texas in 1985. Hired as Gallery Director for the College of Santa Fe (now known as the Santa Fe University of Art and Design) Fine Art Department, I moved to New Mexico and my work was awarded best-in-show at statewide competitive exhibits hosted by the College of Santa Fe, 1989 and the Los Alamos, NM Fuller Art Center in 2003. A solo show at the University of Colorado-Boulder was held in the fall of 1992. The Colorado Daily and Denver Post reviewed the exhibit.
The Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe curated a one-person exhibition, Rescuing Something of Substance, in 1994. The eight-foot, sequential paintings addressed social, political and environmental issues. WYSIWYG+or-9 (whizzywhig plus or minus nine - an acronym for ‘what you see is what you get’) 1993, is a painting/zoetrope of a child trying to kill a frog. Like a film loop, nothing happens as the incident plays out over and over. Mercury (1998) is two paintings in one. Orange, blue and white when exposed to light and then, glows-in-the-dark when the lights are off. This effect is achieved by positioning Kodak glow-paper on the fish scales, rendering the invisible pollutant mercury, visible. After two solo exhibits at LewAllen Contemporary, Santa Fe in 1998 and 2000, a comprehensive survey of sixty two paintings was shown in the Everist gallery at the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science, Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 2001. The exhibits of 2000 and 2001 were the direct result of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s award of a grant in October, 2000.
Singular works in collective exhibitions were included at SITE Santa Fe in 1996 and the Sheldon Art Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1997. In Santa Fe: Aura Gallery, Galeria El Zocalo and LewAllen Contemporary hosted solo shows during the nineties. The New Mexico Museum of Art included the painting Twins (2004) in a 2005 exhibit: About The Face and, recent works from the ManTrap (2010) series were shown at the Santa Fe Art Institute in November, 2011.
Serving as director of installations and shipping at LewAllen Contemporary in Santa Fe for nine years from 1993 to 2002 was instructive, fun and challenging. I worked with hundreds of artists from all over the United States. Moving on to the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos in 2005, I became Chair of the Fine Art Department and began teaching courses in Painting, Drawing, Art History and Modern Art. Since 2013, I have built four separate online Art History courses. This position is rewarding and UNM-Los Alamos supports continued painting and research.
A partial list of publications include: Contemporary Art in New Mexico by Jan Adlmann, edited by Barbara McIntyre, Craftsman House, 1996; New American Paintings, Open Studios Press in 1995 (Book V), 1998 (Book XVIII), and 2000 (Book XXX). THE Magazine: Santa Fe’s Monthly Magazine of the Arts, placed Mascara (1999) on its cover to accompany a feature article: The Universe of Patrick Harris, in May of 2000. In December of 2000, Architectural Digest reproduced four paintings in an article entitled La Posada de Santa Fe. PasaTiempo, Santa Fe’s Weekly Magazine of the Arts, placed Made in China (1998) on its cover with a feature article on December 4, 1998. PasaTiempo then placed Harmony (2005) on the cover of its March 25, 2005 edition to accompany a review of a collective exhibit at Tadu Contemporary Art, Santa Fe. Goldfish (2006) also made the cover of the November 3, 2006 issue of PasaTiempo, featuring a review of a solo exhibit at Tadu.
Developing a mature style and consistent body of work over the past forty years has exposed me to considerable risk and financial hardship. Each setback requires innovation, resolve and a pertinacious belief in the work itself that supersedes personal and financial considerations. I strongly believe that these works expand the vocabulary of painting. Many people helped me continue painting with advice, employ, supporting funds and exhibitions. Their support is enabling and allows the work to evolve and achieve an ever expanding stature in the field of visual art.
Robert Patrick Harris November 11, 2014