Following on from the marvellous survey show that has been touring the country since the late part of 2004, the new work by Jeffrey Harris is testament to his calibre and standing as one of New Zealand’s most important (living) artists.
The works in the exhibition From Dream are a distillation of everything that has gone before. When one sights the exhaustingly vast achievement that is the touring show, it becomes clear that Harris’ newest work is a kind of ballooning out and a taking off away from literalness - away from the painstaking and explicitly rendered subject matter of the previous thirty years or more.
These firey orange, black, and white paintings are a sensory attack. They invoke urgency and perhaps shock. There is a sense of ‘the end’ about these: It is impossible to assume or imagine where Harris might go from here. So we ‘read’ the history of the touring show, and suddenly we see that it has all come to this - and we are hanging in the balance waiting to see what will happen next. This tension (coupled with the imminence of new work) is key to the desirability of the new works, indeed key to what makes great art great.
Harris has moved on from the need to explain himself through universally recognised symbols, and no longer identifies in his art with commonly held preconceptions about love, loss, pain, and suffering. As painful, beautifully considered, and detailed as some of the earlier work is, this new work does away with detail and blends all experience together in a scream about all things: Like defence from the past turned into offence for the future, the From Dream paintings soar.
This is truly great painting; wherein the unintelligible parts of life are expressed with a raw mannerism and passion that is only restrained long enough to be caught within the biomorphic shapes that fill the canvases to overflowing. This work is excruciatingly articulate, and unashamedly confronting.