|A Critique by Peter Wiley, NY.
|Gallery&Studio Magazine, New York:
'Fetish and Fascination in the Art of Steven John Harris.'
The British painter Steven John Harris, born in Plymouth Devonshire in 1955, is an autodidact with a highly sophisticated approach to composition. Confronting one of Harris's paintings, we are often confounded by what appear to be anatomical anomalies of a most peculiar kind, until we sort out the different parts of different bodies appearing in extreme close-up and are able to piece them back together in some logical order in our minds. For Harris has an odd, sometimes vertiginous, way of cropping his pictures that makes them at once disconcerting and seductive in ways that made a visitor to Harris's recent solo exhibition at Montserrat Gallery, 584 Broadway, immediately aware of being in the presence of a delightfully quirky and highly original talent.
Although Harris is self taught, there is nothing naive or innocent about his work. Rather, his paintings are almost wickedly knowing about the convoluted entanglements of human relationships. The people in his pictures interact in ways that suggest all the possible permutations of love, lust, obsession, and sometimes thwarted desire. Indeed, for his fascination with the human body as a conduit of emotional tension, the only other painter one can compare Harris to is Francesco Clemente, the contemporary Italian artist, who once said, "My overall strategy as an artist is to accept fragmentation and to see what comes of it."
Like Clemente, Steven John Harris makes use of ambiguity, employing it to endow his paintings with a strong sense of psychosexual drama. Harris, however, also has an abstract element to his work that lends it an autonomous visual impact. He
employs brilliant color in clear, boldly delineated areas much in the manner of a hard edge abstractionist to make his pictures practically leap off the wall and accost the viewer with their curvaceously sensual forms.
In one painting, entitled "Mary Lips;' the head of a woman with big red lips appears to have a nude body of a smaller person draped over it like a bizarre hat. Harris makes this strange occurrence appear somehow logical by virtue of his ability to bend all the rules of composition so that the viewer makes imaginative leaps between the symbolic and the actual quite effortlessly.
In another painting called "Heels," we are plunged into the realm of fetishism in a compostion where a languidly statuesque female figure in stiletto heels that seem to dominate the composition from the angle that the artist chooses to present them to us casually gooses a companion while a third figure, seen in the foreground, radiates an anxiety reminiscent of the haunted subject of Edvard Munch's famous work, "The Scream:'
Face to Face with Harris's "Hunger," in which a blue man reaches out needily to caress a pair of pink breasts, and "Blue Gays," where two similarly colorful figures are seen in voyeuristic proximity to a nude woman, we too become fascinated voyeurs. To the league of modern British artists, such as Bacon, Hockney and Hodgkin, whom we admire as much for their quirky qualities as for their solid aesthetic attributes, we can now add the name of Steven John Harris.