Alfred Harris

Cliff Michel Gallery

In his previous show, Alfred Harris produced two marvelous, semantically complex images. In Triumph of Intolerance, 1988, a thick wine-red band of a line flows out from a vulva-shaped incision in the palm of a hand. It takes a hard right down the canvas and into a cup, an elaborate antique vessel taking the shape of a human torso. The lengthy connecting line turns the two distant images into one: an emotionally compelling statement about interpersonal receptivity. In Citadel, 1987, Harris creates a sense of connection by overlaying two sets of references onto one diagram. The central image is of two towers floating in the sky. The left is a square battlement, the right a churchlike spire: egoistic defense-structures connected to altruistic aspirations. The interior is like an architect’s rendering of a pueblo, a place of many chambers with ladders connecting levels: an image of the complexities of selfhood. For all the emotional connectedness of the hand-to-cup line and the citadel, these elements are more symbolically than visually yoked into a syntax. This is the problem Harris’ more recent work struggles with, and often stunningly resolves.

The citadel image remains in some works, such as Curtis Bay, 1989. But the red stream from hand to body is transformed into three blood-red sausages hanging from a stick in free space: tenderness converted into emotional cannibalism. In Battleground, 1989, two saucers with scimitarlike blades swirl through a space recalling the turbulent clouds of Chinese paintings. Here, and in the majority of the large acrylic works, the picture plane itself has subsumed the roles of Harris’ connecting blood-band and multi-layered inner citadel.

In the acrylics, one encounters a light-suffusing fluid, a part-gaseous/part-liquid sea of the subconscious. Horizontal brushwork suggests an external current steadily flowing through it. Trellis, 1989, lures the eye through a sea containing large, open, spectral geodesics, farther and farther into a deep space. The light comes from various unaccountable sources. Samy, 1989, is a dark sea with more mysteriously generated areas of illumination. Coexisting with the open geodesics are three small closed ones, each wrapped in a taut skin, and connected by thorny sticks. Intermingling, too, in this space are seaweed, ladders cast adrift like net fragments, and vertical strands of bulbous underwater plantlife. Emotionally and visually, all the bits of meaning connect. They reveal, in vivid terms, the agued syntax of our glands.

Jae Carlsson