Unbelivable Art by Steven John Harris

Art as I see it

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Essay/Critique Stacie Patricia McGowan
To look at him Steven John Harris is an average scaffolder: 6ft, broad, stocky even. Few would believe that beneath the surface of this burly scaffolder is the delicate soul of the artist. Harris' work is wonderfully reflective of the artist himself: It dominates the eye with brash use of colour, has an absurd over emphasis on mis-use of perspective and, to quote a friend, "fucks you up" from the moment you start looking at it. But his art remains so much more than that initial impact - paintings such as 'Mark Him', 'Pasiphae' and "Baudelaire's Albatross' exhibit deeper, more poetical meanings than either the thickness of paint or the title would imply, and, much like Munch emphasised the flatness of a canvas to convey great depth, ensures that his own subtleties disguise thoughts so deep they are sometimes beyond comprehension. You can look and look and look at a Harris painting but more meanings will reveal themselves to you at every glance of the canvas. You cannot look at Harris' work in five minutes. Harris' work will hook you.

'Mark Him', for instance, is not just a painting about a pissing fetish - it is a social commentary. Issues concerning contemporary sexual politics dominate the scene, but few acknowledge Harris' concerns of branding and ownership. Harris' astute and somewhat witty observation that we, as 21st century humans, will allow any sort of branding to mark us (so long, of course, as others are having it too) is largely lost behind the man holding the pissing woman's breast. When I asked Harris about this he said "well initially I was going to have a line of people, all one behind the other. Behind the man, another woman, behind the woman, another man. It started off as a power struggle but developed into that animal need we have to mark our territory. Mine." 'Mark Him' then, not only articulates a very strong sense of sexual power play but the domino effect prevalent in society - we want what others have, not because we want it necessarily, but because it makes us belong. Interestingly this branding, although animal with the excretion of urine and the pack mentality associated with needing to be in a group, has haunting echoes of slavery. This slavery, for Harris, however, is no longer dictated by the colour of skin (his characters are rarely flesh coloured) but of a greed cultivated by consumer society where even people are a commodity to be branded. Look again to the greedy green skin of the woman and the designer suit our branded man is wearing.

One of the paintings not currently in collection (Harris having donated it as prize for charity) is 'Blue-Boner Subject'. Truly this painting is chilling. The weeping child and the powerful adult illustrate a tense abuse of power, but, again, Harris' true concern is blurred in amongst the bald heads and seemingly sexless characters - until you see the camera, hidden just out of range on the peripheries of the canvas. Harris shockingly relates his own perceptions on child abuse. The swollen, blue adult looking in the camera, cradling the sick yellow child who peeps out, looking backward, cowering from under his own arm demonstrates how these children often live for the rest of their lives: always looking backwards, always on their guard, and always at the mercy of their abusers. The genius in Harris is that his image of child abuse, as in real life, is not perceivable until the camera is acknowledged and it is too late. Harris repulses us with our own laziness of sagacity.

Steven John Harris laughs, screams and weeps through his paintbrush. No truer words can be said that Harris' art is deserving of the title 'unbelievable'.

To view 'Blue Boner' and other pieces of Harris' work not included in this collection please visit unbelievable-art.co.uk
Stacie Patricia McGowan

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