TarraWarra Museum of Art launched a major survey exhibition exploring the work of senior contemporary Melbourne-based artist Brent Harris, on 2 December.
The exhibition Brent Harris: Surrender and Catch, curated by Maria Zagala and co-presented with the Art Gallery of South Australia, brings together over 100 paintings, drawings, studies and prints, traversing the artist’s practice and stylistic shifts over his career.
Brent Harris: Surrender and Catch maps the ways Harris’s art has developed over the past four decades, featuring a broad selection of works from 1987 to 2022.
Harris’s distinctive style, which moves between figuration and abstraction, deploys both humour and the grotesque to examine psychological subject matter as he visualises his complex and contradictory feelings.
Indeed, the exhibition title refers to Harris’s interest in sociologist Kurt H. Wolff’s notion of ‘surrender and catch’ as a process for self-analysis and as a method of working.
Addressing the experience of the body and desire, faith (and the question of what follows death), and childhood memories of porous familial relationships, Harris said that to experience 30 years of his past, laid out in images of his own making, is alternately quite emotional, sobering and a bit scary.
“During the making of these works one doesn’t really see how things might add up in the future. Time is that added ingredient,” he said.
“In considering what the result of a life spent making imagery now looks like, an overriding concern has been a return, again and again, to thinking about the human condition – the craziness we all face in our individual and collective struggles, in attempting to hold our lives together in some meaningful way.”
“My work is a continuing search, vainly perhaps at times, to make meaning. I am endlessly searching for revelation, if only expressed in a desire to the next image to be revealed.”
Harris’s ambiguous forms in his work derive from his use of the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing to access unconscious imagery.
Working concurrently across painting, printmaking and drawing, Harris has developed a generative methodology, where each medium feeds the development of his art in unexpected ways.
Harris said it is a privilege to be given these opportunities to assess his journey so far, and for any artist to see their work at TarraWarra, one of the most beautiful galleries in the country, is an exceptional opportunity.
“For the exhibition then to be extended in size to occupy the glorious spaces at AGSA in 2024 will be revelatory, even to the artist alone, I’m sure.” he said.
Exhibition curator Maria Zagala said this exhibition, developed slowly over the course of many years, presents a comprehensive overview of Harris’s formidable career.
“If the making of art can be seen as a process of excavation, then the circumstances of Brent Harris’s maturation from a difficult childhood in Aotearoa New Zealand through to his early twenties as a gay man during the onset of the AIDS pandemic in Melbourne – provide the foundation from which his work has emerged over the past four decades,” she said.
Surrender and Catch showcases works from the significant collections of both TarraWarra Museum of Art and Art Gallery of South Australia.
Augmented by a selection of loans from both public and private collections and institutions, the exhibition charts a journey from The Stations (1989), Harris’s first major series exploring the death of his friends to AIDS, to his return to the subject in 2021.
The exhibition emphasises the crosspollination of imagery and the development of forms in his printmaking, drawing and painting practice.
Also included are prints by Louise Bourgeois, Edvard Munch and Kiki Smith, artists who have had a significant influence on Harris’s work.
TarraWarra Museum of Art director Dr Victoria Lynn said TarraWarra Museum of Art is immensely proud to partner with the Art Gallery of South Australia on this major survey exhibition of leading contemporary artist Brent Harris, a key artist in their collection.
“From intimate gestural abstract work to remarkable figurative paintings, we are excited for audiences to experience the artist’s oeuvre, characterised by his exploration of the psychologically generative possibilities of the drawn line,” she said.
AGSA director Rhana Devenport ONZM said in partnership with TarraWarra Museum of Art, the Art Gallery of South Australia is proud to present Brent Harris: Surrender & Catch, the first major monograph of the Aotearoa-born, Melbourne-based artist Brent Harris.
“This monograph is published in tandem with the artist’s retrospective at TarraWarra Museum of Art in 2023 and an expanded presentation at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2024,” she said.
“The driving force behind this project is Maria Zagala, AGSA’s Associate Curator, Prints, Drawings and Photographs.
“A significant gift to AGSA of over fifty of the artist’s works from the private collection of James Mollison, AO, and Vincent Langford was the impetus for the exhibition. Their gift, in 2017, transformed the Gallery’s holdings of Harris’s works on paper, with many of these acquisitions on display for the first time in this exhibition.”
A major highlight of Brent Harris: Surrender & Catch is a public forum Forming/Transforming: The Art of Brent Harris with the artist Brent Harris and curator Maria Zagala in conversation and presentations by Associate Professor Justin Clemens (University of Melbourne) and Dr Helen Hughes (Monash University).
The panel will come together on Sunday 11 February 2024 for an informative afternoon to explore Brent’s methodology and development as an artist through his dramatic stylistic shifts over his four-decade career.