Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s–1990s, a major retrospective at Singapore's National Gallery (14 June–15 September 2019), opens emphatically in flames. At the exhibition's entrance, viewers encounter a wall-sized image from 1964 titled Burning Canvases Floating on the River. The photograph captures a performance by Lee Seung-taek, in which...
When the London-born artist Thomas J Price graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Chelsea College of Arts in 2004, the school's college art prize was by no means his most notable accomplishment as an emerging artist. In 2001, Price presented his much-talked-about work Licked, a daring performance, later profiled on the BBC 4 television...
Without punctuation, She Said Why Me, the title of May Fung's 1989 video presents itself as a statement, rather than a question. It suggests a subject who expects no response, a person prepared to make what she can from being chosen though perplexed by the attention. The video follows a blindfolded woman, then unmasked, through late colonial-era...
An artist working with collage, painting and sculpture, Harrison juxtaposes fantastical scenes of natural and supernatural creatures with modern figures, to comment on fractures in society and the impact of human activity on nature. He lives in north London
"Like me, Lucinda's a fan of the macabre. She was doing a book about shrines and a mutual friend told her I had a shrine to my poodle. So she came to my council flat in Bow, and I nearly killed her, as I was trying to get rid of my 1950s leopard-skin three-piece suite from the fourth floor; I threw it over the balcony just as she arrived."
Teetering on the cusp of ordinary perception, David Harrison’s paintings, drawings and sculptures present a world where the natural and supernatural go hand in hand. Harrison's works expand the languages of contemporary painting and sculpture, drawing into play parts of the culture which are forgotten, buried, discarded or disregarded. The artist employs all that has lain outside of the mainstream of modern art–age-old symbols and fanciful myth, irrational beliefs, traditional genres like landscape, exuberant sexuality, barbed wit, and wonder at the natural world – in order to speak vividly about our own time, and to revivify the disciplines of painting and sculpture.
Harrison’s paintings give shape to a complete imaginative universe akin to those of earlier Romantic visionaries, ripe with references to the natural world and populated by a cast of animals and figures drawn from myths, legends, modern-day politics and from his own biography alike. They have featured a cast of potent female characters–including Foxglove, Belladonna and Wolfsbane fairies – that find echoes in the fairy painting of John Anster Fitzgerald and others of the Victorian era, whose scenes of fabulous revelry unfolding on the edge of social consciousness married a gothic interest in otherworldliness with an impulse to cleanse the doors of perception.
Such characters might seem to exist at the outer reaches of our ordinary sensory thresholds, as though momentarily illuminated by Harrison's vivid powers of description. Though in his imagined world, each species struggles to co-exist with mankind, nature is unbowed. Animal life always maintains the upper hand, even when mankind's avarice threatens everything else. While human presence is revealed to be ignorant, frivolous, or destructive, animal and plant life represents good sense and eternal knowledge.
Shaped from cheap, prosaic materials such as Sellotape, along with detritus recovered from the city, Harrison’s sculptures present us with symbolic figures from the past, from myth, or from fiction. They embody either man's tragic folly or nature's wisdom and life-force, by literally embodying our throw-away society and its effects upon the natural world. Harrison's dexterity with such materials allows each object, despite its humble origins, to possess an alarming, talismanic potency, and an iconic simplicity.
Born in 1954, David Harrison lives and works in London. Harrison's works have been exhibited at venues including Sargent's Daughters, New York, 2016, TRAMPS, London, 2017 and 2014, VeneKlasen/Werner, Berlin, 2012, Vilma Gold, London, 2012 and 2003, Daniel Reich Gallery, New York, 2008, Galeria OMR, Mexico City, 2007, the Arts Centre St. Petersburg, Florida 2005, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland, 2005, The Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2006 and 2004, Whitechapel Project Space, London, 2004 and 2003, Bloomberg Space, London 2004, and Cubitt Gallery, London 2001.
Victoria Miro is delighted to announce Flowers of Evil, David Harrison’s third solo show with the gallery. This selection of new work presents a densely populated and fully realised universe, where the supernatural pull of the natural world is intertwined with a keen sense of modern civilisation’s insensitivities.
Foxglove, Belladonna and Wolfsbane fairies are among the cast of potent female characters at the heart of this body of work. Though they might be distant relatives to the flower fairies of twentieth-century artist Cecily Barker, who envisioned the flora native to English hedgerows and meadows as prepubescent children, Harrison’s exuberantly unsafe anthropomorphised flowers epitomise the threat of danger that makes modern society increasingly uneasy. Marginalised by sanitised landscapes in which barren office blocks and bland housing estates proliferate – peopled by briefcase-touting unprincipled property developers, trapped workers and disenfranchised youths – their luxuriant groves are at best surveyed from the safe remove of a bedroom window. The mutual effects of this estrangement resonate throughout Flowers of Evil, The Nature of Chaos, 2015, in which nature’s rhythms, the migratory paths of birds and life-cycles of insects, are thrown off-balance by pervasive wireless signals, and the threatened collapse of drained marshland on which a group of executive homes has been built is symbolised by an apocalyptic river of blood.
The meeting of these apparently antithetical, mythic and mundane worlds on Harrison’s picture plane finds an echo in the fairy painting of John Anster Fitzgerald and others of the Victorian era. Conceived during Britain’s industrial revolution, Fitzgerald’s scenes of fabulous revelry unfolding on the edge of social consciousness married a gothic interest in otherworldliness with an impulse to cleanse the doors of perception. Morning glory and bindweed, flowers well known for their mind-altering potential, are a telling presence in Fitzgerald’s work, though for Harrison the sensory potential associated with plants does not end with their ingestion. Just as Baudelaire describes smells ‘corrupt, and rich, triumphant, With
This acute attunement to the material and immaterial environment induces a synthesis of human, animal and vegetable life, imagination and reality, the empirical and the paranormal, in a wild and teeming ecology where plants are fertilised by decomposing skulls and sulphur yellow butterflies are on the lookout for decaying matter on which to feed. Teetering on the cusp of ordinary perception, Harrison’s works refuse not only the limitations of contemporary logic, which would firmly demarcate good and evil, harmful and beneficial (conveniently forgetful of the truth that, in the correct dosage, even deadly plants aid sleep), but also flout physical laws of scale, time and space. Flowers of Evil, The Congregation, 2015, comprises an idiosyncratic medley of ancient symbolism and contemporary narrative where swallows, worms and goldfinches keep company with a saint’s haloed remains and the ghostly inhabitant of, perhaps, a nearby new-build housing estate. Meanwhile, horned Pan commands a host of hares encircling the moon, over the new icons of London’s cult of finance and business. The corrugated ribcage of the cardboard on which the paint is applied is visible in places, this quotidian, useful substance buckling and transforming apparently with a will of its own.
The mood of Harrison’s paintings is sometimes portentous: blood-red suns, human ignorance and copulating corpses all feature, the latter in a mini-series titled Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Ugly. And yet, there is solace to be found in the ceaseless fertility of the natural world, whether coded in the tiny DNA structures visible in a bubbling pool of signs in Flowers of Evil, Enchanter's Nightshade, 2015, or overtly declared in You Can't Kill Me, 2013, its title a defiant graffiti slogan which seems more than applicable to Harrison’s inimitable flowers of evil.
Born in 1954, David Harrison lives and works in London. Harrison's works have been exhibited at venues including TRAMPS, London (2014), VeneKlasen/Werner, Berlin (2012), Vilma Gold, London (2012 and 2003), Daniel Reich Gallery, New York (2008), Galeria OMR, Mexico City (2007), the Arts Centre St. Petersburg, Florida (2005), Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2005), The Whitechapel Gallery, London (2006 and 2004), Whitechapel Project Space, London (2004 and 2003), Bloomberg Space, London (2004) and Cubitt Gallery, London (2001).
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