Unbelivable Art by Steven John Harris

Art as I see it

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*Review by Maurice Taplinger*
Steven John Harris: British Painting's New National Treasure.pbrWithout going so far as to agree with Richard Dorment, art critic for the Daily Telegraph of London, that "Today, London is acknowledged to be the center of the art world, a role that once belonged to Paris and New York," one must admit that British art has made great strides in terms of visibility in the past half decade, due in part to the establishment of Tate Modern and all the publicity attending the Saatchi collection. However, that the British are still as slow as we are to embrace homegrown talents who do not come with a proper academic pedigree or fit into an instantly definable category is evident in the case of the immensley gifted painter Steven John Harris, who recently had his second U.S solo exhibition at Montserrat Gallery, 584 Broadway. (Montserrat has since relocated to new quarters at 547 West 27th Street, in Chelsea.)br All though Harris - a scaffolder by trade, a painter by vocation - has been enormously productive for fifteen years, it took a review of his New York exhibition, which appeared in this publication some months ago, to get him attention in his on country. When Gallery&Studio reviewer Peter Wiley compared Harris to British big guns such as Bacon and Hockney, a veritable publicity blitz resulted: Feature articles apperaed in the Times of London, among several other dailies and weeklies, and a TV crew showed up unexpectedly at the artist's door for an impromtu interview.br Unfortunately, however, alomost all of the publicity focused on the "human interest" angle ("Meet the new Hockney - But Steve Harris hasn't given up his day job," and so on), as well as on the raunchy eroticism of Harris' subject matter, rather than on his unique gifts as a painter. This seems short-sighted, in view of freshness and originality that makes Steven John Harris much more than an outsider phenomenon.br In fact, what his second exhibition demonstrated above all else is that, despite being self-taught and difficult to place into any existing art world framework, Harris is a highly accomplished artist with a sophisticated vision that would have made him a perfect fit for "Sensation," the exhibition of the Saatchi collection at the Royal Academy of Arts that shook up London in 1997. (In more than just world, Saatchi and other english collectors would be getting in line with their American counterparts who have already snatched up works by Harris.)br As witty titles such as "Blue Boner Subject", "Suck Conceit" and "Rake Daddy" suggest, Harris' paintings possess a wicked wit and a spitting irreverence akin to that of other Britsh iconoclasts such as Adrian Mitchell or The Sex Pistols. Indeed, like that populist poet and notorious rock band, Steven John Harris brings fresh new energy to his art form, painting with fearless, prolific, urgency. His formal fluidity and coloristic intrepidness are especially striking in "Eco Lesson", a shocking image of naked humans bludgeoning baby seals, and "Virgin Throes In Blue," in which two nuns in brilliant ultramarine habits appear to be ravishing a crimson female nude. Other paintings such as "Polka Dots Sisters" and "I Don't Like It" and "Open Your Present" address sexual idolatry, bestiality, sadomasochism, and a variety of other kinky fetishes.br Steven John Harris' bodily obsessions are fully as shocking as those of Francesco Clemente; yet he achieves even more ingeniously freewheeling formal solutions than that well known Italian painter, transforming his most extreme fantasies and inner visions into emblematic compositions with bold, flat forms and clear, vibrant color areas. And his quintessentially British vision should pat both Tate Modern and Saatchi on notice that they have a new national treasure in their midst.p- Maurice Taplinger.

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