Midnight Everywhere: Alexander Harrison at Various Small Fires
Rendered in painstaking detail on an intimate scale, Harrison’s work conjures the illusive intricacy of Juan Sanchez Cotán’s still lifes of hanging fruit on a window’s ledge and the moodiness of Northern Renaissance Vanitas paintings. Applying multiple layers of acrylic paint over panel which is further whittled down to create the illusion of stone or wood, Harrison often encloses his subjects in trompe l’oeil frames, presenting each panel as a physical and metaphorical opening into interconnected stories for viewers to peer through. Within each painting, Harrison uses allegorical symbols to create an overarching constellation of his own universe. These symbols are replicated and referenced throughout his exhibition: a shooting star appears through a green windowpane in Just by Chance and is mirrored as a sparkle in the eye of If I had one Wish; the figure in Portrait of the artist in the penumbra of the moon… is later reflected in the tiny silhouette in Beyond Me, now strolling down a winding path that might lead to another painting altogether. Here is there and then is now. Time and space are quietly blended to create a metanarrative of the Black cowboy, an autobiographical hero, a painter, an escapist consumed by wanderlust, and on top of it all, a dreamer who knowingly or unknowingly welcomes us into his sharply rendered dream.
Alexander Harrison grew up in a small American cul-de-sac in Marietta, a predominantly white town in South Carolina. In the artist’s words, “We called my neighborhood the Goldmine, and it was in the Goldmine where I was able to carve out a sense of freedom, love, and comfort among my family, sheltered from the disaffection and hostility that characterized the town at-large. As I got older though, I took every opportunity to leave […] passing through the risks and fears posed by Marietta.” Harrison’s paintings, by drawing attention to the distance between viewer and the view beyond the window’s frame, highlight a range of emotions: longing, desire, and freedom, compounded with isolation and transience.