Richard Harris is represented by Mason Murer Fine Art in Atlanta GA

2012 | Today's Visual Language: Southern Abstraction, A Fresh Look
            The Mobile Museum of Art

2011 | Solo Show Spontaneous Control at White Provisions
2011 | New Works at Mason Murer Fine Art
2010 | New Works at Mason Murer Fine Art
2009 | New Works at Mason Murer Fine Art
2009 | Abstract Show at Mason Murer Projects in Buckhead
I am an abstract expressionist.
I am driven by the visuals of chaos and order co-existing in the same work of art. I love movement, pattern and color and find harmony in a place where they intersect. My paintings are intended to be “mandalas“ (visual meditations), to draw people in. My work is inspired by the “action” paintings of Jackson Pollock as well as the geometric pieces of Frank Stella and Bridget Riley. I am drawn to modernism because of its visceral nature. It goes directly from the eye to the heart. It is verb, not a noun.

A Sense of Fully Spontaneous Control: Notes on the Recent Paintings of Richard Harris

Jerry Cullum

Stripes and splashes don't usually go together in abstract painting. The one bespeaks a rigid rationalism and a preoccupation with color combinations or with the conscious absence of same (as in monochromatic paintings). The other connotes wild spontaneity to the average viewer, although when Jackson Pollock flung or dripped his paint, he knew very well where it was most likely to land.

So the two strategies seem mutually exclusive to most observers. But after twenty years of painting works that express different degrees of rigor and spontaneity, Richard Harris has created a provocative, productive blend of both.

It isn't just that the narrow, equidistant stripes in so many of these paintings leave spaces that reveal a Pollock-like gestural painting beneath them. The stripes themselves are the seeming remnants of a similar work, spontaneous-looking yet obviously well proportioned.

The works are intensively formalist. Each is an independent exploration of palette and balance, but the results are intimately related to one another. The push-pull of the abstract expressionists dominates some works, while in other paintings Harris replaces it with the perceptual paradoxes of Op art.

As Harris has said, jokingly, "If Bridget Riley and Jackson Pollock produced a love child, these paintings would be the result."

The paintings' air of variety and experiment reflects Harris' sense of the variety and irony and/or witty mystery of the world at large—yet the works are emphatically not symbolic of that sense, or of anything else, and they remain untitled to drive home the fact of their non-narrative qualities.

"I like the way things link together in life, in the world, and in art," Harris says, and goes on to note that the paintings "are not as meticulously planned as they look"—even though the works convey a feeling of elegantly imprecise or exacting proportion and overall rightness that emerges from a swirl of parallel curves or an organic grid of seeming spatters, it is an outcome that sometimes incorporates intuitive surprises. As in a game, laying down a set of unyielding rules doesn't guarantee a particular style of overall play.

The paintings, Harris observes, "bring structure and chaos together. I like fixed things and I like to have movement around them."

"All art is a meditation," he continues. And indeed, the series preceding the present one paid deliberate, albeit non-literal, homage to the Japanese Buddhist practice of creating the meditative shape of a circle with a single brushstroke.

In the existentialist 1950s, Americans were much taken with Zen's qualities of flow and immediacy, but that sense of spontaneous motion is paid for by long hours of sitting and walking and devoting unfailing attention to the power of repetition.

In like fashion, Harris' alternation between structured and free-flowing line patterns reflects a comprehension of the control that is the necessary accompaniment to the utterly open gesture. Every moment of instantaneous freedom is prepared for by infinite quantities of tedious but often joyous labor.

And that dialectic, which leads ultimately to the higher sense of comic release so frequently associated with Zen's greatest masters, is the force that underlies and drives Harris' newest work.

April 2009

Dr Jerry Cullum is a longtime critic and curator whose essays and reviews have appeared in Art in America, ARTnews, Sculpture, Raw Vision, and other publications.