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Out There | Jane Harris
By Charles Darwent, April 2018
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
To most of the world, Josef Albers is a painter of squares. And with good reason.
For the last quarter-
Night Ride, 2017, oil on wood, 50 x 50 cm
I recount this in part because Jane Harris claims Albers as one of the chief influences in her own art, and because she, too, has become closely associated with a single geometric form: the ellipse (2). For nearly thirty years now – longer than Albers and his squares – Harris has paid homage to the ellipse, or at least has seemed to. Works as disparate in time and appearance as Thrill (2006) and Night Ride (2017) are linked in their use of the form. As with Albers, though, this does not reflect a quixotic fondness on Harris’s part for a random shape. For her, too, geometric form is only a means to an end; a control by which she can measure her own process, and expand on it.
I do not mean to labour the Harris-
Holding Back, 2017, oil on linen, 58 x 64 cm
Turning Points, 2017, oil on wood, 40 x 40 cm
Ellipses, unlike squares, lend themselves readily to allusion. A square is, always
and irrevocably, a square; an ellipse may be long and etiolated, like a finger, or
flat and globular like a bun. The descriptors for its various possible states, like
the states themselves, tend to the diurnal and organic. Squares look like squares;
ellipses look like things – heads, wineglasses, grapes, genitals. Often, the form
of Harris’s ellipses is dictated by the proportion of the paintings in which they
appear: the long narrowness of a series of canvases she made in in 2015-
Which is to say that Harris is arguably a history painter, although the history she
paints is not of emperors and states but of the evolution of her own eye. In the
2017 works, the long, unbroken, brush-
Letting Slip (Four Small Blasts) (Quadriptych), 2017, oil on wood, 80 x 80cm
And so they have. At first glance, her latest series of work has little to do with
the last. Where those paintings felt somehow classical, new ones such as Turning
Point (2017) feel almost cartoonish. The central figure in the painting seems to
float in shallow water, casting a shadow on the surface below. Letting Slip (Four
Small Blasts) (2017) calls Lichtenstein’s Whaam! inevitably to mind, although the
1. Neil Welliver, ‘Albers on Albers’, Art News 64, no. 9, January 1966, p. 69.
2. For Harris on Albers, see, for example, interview between Ben Gooding and Jane Harris for Saturation Point, May 2017. http://www.saturationpoint.org.uk/Jane_Harris.html
(Text above taken from the exhibition catalogue for Jane Harris’s exhibition OUT THERE at the Eagle Gallery, London.)