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Rambling between paradise and hell, artist Stephen Harrison talks contradictions with Ben Reid.  

Evil Temptation

Confronted by a looming canvas and dark - in some light almost nightmarish - textures of Stephen Harrison's latest creation, artist and journalist alike struggle for words. Fortunately Harrison has an excuse.

"That's why I'm painting, that's why some people play guitar, if I could talk more fully about these things and understand them in that way, then maybe I wouldn't be painting," Harrison says.

The object of consternation was Big fat Red Death and the Metamorphosis of the Man, a two-part installation featuring the aforementioned massive oil painting and a sculpture in the form of a Kafkaesque skull, Harrison 's representation of death.

The themes not easily put into words are the same themes that Harrison has been exploring throughout his life as a painter, that being for the past 12 years.

"They're the concerns of every artist: life, death, the big issues, but each time they manifest themselves in a different way."

Harrison once stumbled across a passage, "in a book on abstract expressionism, of all places," that captured his imagination and now makes a textural accompaniment to the visual pieces of the installation.

Author unknown, it reads in part: "Evil temps me as much as good. I would like to be the purest of men, and yet the lewd fascinates me. A great love can bring tears to my eyes. Yet at times you have seen me gaze with delight at corrupted men. I worship physical beauty like a Rubens, but like a Grunewald, I must smell the sores of the leper. My fellow man may prefer heaven after death. But let me, when I die, have the freedom to ramble between Paradise and Hell.

"The beautiful and the horrible," Harrison says. "The beauty of a Rubens, the sores of a leper. It's not everyone's cup of tea. But it's the constant contradiction."

He doesn't see himself as a pessimist, rather, he believes there is darkness as much as light, "and they're the kind of possibilities an artist likes to draw out."

Approaching such a task isn't necessarily one small step from happiness, 'But," he offers, " happiness and contentment? I'm content in a sense, because I'm doing what I want to."