Artwork Detail

From Dream # 2838
Paramount Award Winner, 2003 Wallace Art Awards.

This imposing, perplexing work forms part of a wider series of paintings Harris began in 2001, entitled From Dream. At this time Harris had settled back in Dunedin after living and making art for 14 years in Melbourne.

Up until 1986, when he moved to Australia, Harris was known for his distinctive figurative painting, which consistently achieved a high pitch of drama through carefully constructed compositions of figures, often semi-autobiographical in origin. Harris’ explorations in the Australian setting culminated in a number of severe black and white abstract works in which recognisable figures or landscapes are absent, a radical departure from his earlier practice. ‘When I went to Australia, the subject matter and my personal life stopped – I am pretty happy with that’, the artist has stated.

If those last Australian works represent a dark period in Harris’s life, the From Dream series represents a powerful re-emergence into the light, as though the artist is waking from a troubled sleep – shapes twist and metamorphose as if in a strange symbolic dream. The bone white figure at the centre of From Dream #2838 is a truly composite symbol – ovum, sperm, fallopian tubes, vagina, wedding ring, safety pin – all held together in a strange elephant-like icon.

There is also the suggestion of an Atlas-like figure struggling to holding up the world, just as elephants do in some cosmologies. The metamorphosing form extends through all of the works of the series. Variously we can find skulls, Munch’s The Scream (1893), Corinthian helmets. In fact the number 2838 refers to a Corinthian helmet in the British Museum collection, and this reference reinforces the idea of symbolic protection from aggressive forces. Another precedent might be found in Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), in which Bacon placed his grotesque figures, defined in whites and greys with hard black outlines, against a highly saturated orange background. Bacon conceived his figures as parallels to the vengeful Furies of classical mythology – and something of the primal horror manifest in Bacon’s image is also present in Harris’ From Dream #2838.

Published on the occasion of the Twenty Wallace Art Awards Paramount Winners Exhibition.
14 February to 22 April 2012 at The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre and 2 August to 30 September 2012 at the Wallace Gallery Morrinsville.
Oil On Linen
2134 x 1625
Accession number

Part of 1 highlight set