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New Jeffrey Harris paintings grapple with love, sex and death.

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Jeffrey Harris, Possession

Jeffrey Harris, New Paintings

Suite, Auckland

Until April 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Jeffrey Harris creates dreamscapes where the real and surreal, the spiritual and the earthly the sacred and profane jostle with each other with a rich imagery which grapples with issues of love, sex and death.

In his latest exhibition of new paintings from this year he draws on medieval styles of depiction,  artists of the Trecento such as Giotto, Francis Bacon and Colin McCahon. His cartoon-like approach  and the Christian imagery creates a unique view of the social. psychological, and spiritual dilemmas of society.

Like many artists over the years, his use of  Christian symbolism, has overtones of ancient meaning as well as contemporary psychological interpretations.

Many of the symbols used by Harris are multi layered as with the case of the severed or floating head.

The symbolism of severed head as its roots in early art – David slaying Goliath, St John the Baptist’s head demanded by Salome and Judith slaying Holofernes.

The Symbolists such as Redon saw this floating head as the  embodiment of purity and martyrdom as well as the dangerous eroticism of the femme fatale, which leads to the emasculation  of the male while Freudians would see it as a symbol of castration.

But there are many other rich symbols – the snake, the two headed snake, the crucifix, the crucified man, the book, the drop of blood, the candle, the single tree.

It means that these works are narratives combining biblical tales, recreated myths, dream sequences and psychological  insights.

In using Christian imagery Harris creates ambivalent narratives. While the Bible stories are about God/Christ, Harris uses them as  symbols of human suffering, addressing issues of personal spirituality and angst.

These stories range from the simple depictions of Adam and Eve in “Female and Male” where Adam prefigures Christ by piercing his side with a spear. But the two figures hold symbols of violence – the woman a pistol and the man a spear and sword. The  violence done to the Male/Christ figure is self-inflicted, the image  suggesting that our suffering, violence and antipathy are self-generated.

Jeffrey Harris, Family

His  “Crucifixion and Figures in Landscape derives from the many religious paintings as well as Colin McCahon’s technique of placing the biblical scenes in local landscapes.

“Family” has a much more ambivalent sexual content with a Christ figure into bondage confronted by a religious dominatrix. There is also  an emasculated penis image on the wall.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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