The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Jane Harris | OUT THERE

Eagle Gallery, 15 March - 14 April 2018

Review by Simon Gales

Stepping out across the floor towards the centre of Emma Hill's Eagle Gallery, one gets an instant impression that work and wall were created simultaneously. The restrictions of the space seem to be pushed out by paintings, mostly square in format, to create an exhibition that looks surprisingly large. There is a strange sensation at that point: even before the works start to register, Jane Harris has already enveloped the spectator in an environment where dimensions start to shift and change. Each piece - seemingly non-figurative - appeals in turn, magnetically pulling via a powerful vortex of colour and an extraordinary virtuosity in paintwork that are together entwined and enticingly meted out to reel us into uncharted water.

Eagle Gallery space with Strike Out, Wild Thing and Either Way

It takes time to ascertain what it is that is drawing me towards these paintings. The silvery-green jade exterior and deep ultramarine interior in Turning Points is certainly alluring, but there is also something incredibly compelling in the recurrent elliptical shapes that orbit the inner form or void, strung together to make a larger aperture or motif. This cellular structure of consecutive ellipses is set as if spring-loaded and held in place, both externally and internally, by a wide continuous brush mark, a contour that appears either proud or recessed, and applying what seems to be an equal pressure all round. As I am drawn closer, it becomes apparent that the tension is released at five points but gives way slightly at one side. It is as if the painting is beginning to develop a kind of precariousness that provokes unease, instability and imminent collapse, checking a possible yearning in the viewer to reach out to the deep blue beyond.

Turning Points, 2017, oil on wood, 40 x 40 cm

There is a pronounced physicality, often enhanced by the metallic hardness of surface in some of the paintings, which is either impressed or lifted by the continuous brush strokes supporting the motif. It takes a moment to register which way it is, until with a slight shift of position the sudden change of light hitting the surface reverses the tones to the opposite, and instantly the spectator is wrong-footed. It is as if one is forced to question one's senses, an uncertainty that becomes compounded when confronted with the multiple pieces such as the quadriptych Letting Slip (Four Small Blasts). For it suddenly dawns on me at this point that although all paintings will alter according to the light, from morning to afternoon, Letting Slip is perpetually changing by the second, let alone by the time of day. However much this is intentionally manipulated by the artist from one piece to another, there is in real time a past, present and future, with the hot cores beyond constantly alternating in intensity as if by the degree, expanding and contracting.

Letting Slip (Four Small Blasts) - quadriptych, 2017, oil on wood, 80 x 80 cm

The way these paintings are put together, the paintwork in particular being quite spectacular, it is difficult in many respects to fathom how it is humanly possible to paint an uninterrupted broad brushstroke, perfect in width and without flaw, that waves and circles each ellipse, seemingly at speed. It is as if the paintings are devoid of human intervention, that they are in fact entities, literally living things, cellular, monocular, even distinctly organic in structure. In Wild Thing the orange centre is regenerative and rising, the green ovals seem to swell and enlarge, flourishing against the blue-black like a bursting thistle. Similarly, in Night Ride there is a strong sense of sensuality, the warm pink interior seeping around the dilating ovular shapes until there is a sudden change of light, when the motif is either projected into the space of the spectator or recedes deeper, almost teasingly. The paradox is that the mood rapidly evaporates when one notices the five earth-brown ellipses, squeezed to form spikes and expose a potential that makes one hesitate, even withdraw cautiously.

Wild Thing, 2018, oil on wood, 80 x 80 cm

Night Ride, 2017, oil on wood, 50 x 50 cm

Apart from the fields of short interconnecting and pulsating strokes of colour that almost electrically relay across one painting and down another, particularly visible in the multiple works such as Letting Slip, Either Way and Outlandish, it is clear that there are no other straight lines in any Jane Harris painting. Rather, there is a carefully orchestrated, virtually musical rhythm of curves and ellipses, hemispheres that have no beginning and no end. Holding Back is a breathtakingly powerful and colourful work with its sumptuous, plush, vibrant metallic orange and crimson interior, colours that seem to enhance an equally beautiful, almost astronomical, physical and mathematical force at play. Slightly distorted spheres and ellipses appear punched into the shimmering surfaces of opposing pressure that are tightening under the strain and sheening the bevelled edges of the painting.

Holding Back, 2017, oil on linen, 58 x 64 cm

But these are impressions one gets from images that are so meticulously put together that I begin to wonder whether one is intentionally coerced into seeing things that may not necessarily be there. That perhaps one is tricked into perceiving these things as clear-cut as the paintings themselves. As the paintings change according to the light, one senses voids one second - and then it is as if the door suddenly closes to a definite surface the next. I get the impression that maybe one is entranced in a kind of narcotic deception, transparently given off by hypnotic artworks that have us totally under their control. 

Outlandish triptych  2015-2017, oil on wood, 60 x 180 cm