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A gothic art attack

Sasha Grishin, Canberra Times, Wednesday May 25, 2005

Review

Shakespeare's girls, by Stephen Harrison, at Galerie de Mar, Downer, until May 29.

If there is a style in art that we may term as "grunge gothic", then Stephen Harrison is an extreme exponent of it.

The full title of his exhibition is Shake­speare's girls, the blood babies, and the gnarled, blackened castles of the golden city of Prague.

It consists of a series of paintings and a number of small, welded, mixed-media sculptural installations. The dominant colour is black and this is occasionally interrupted with a generous serve of blood-red pigment.

Shakespeare's tragic heroines, the massacred babies of war, as well as an excursion into Bohemian gothic are all sources that Harrison draws upon to produce a vision of an eschatological nightmare in this intimate exhibition displayed within an unconverted suburban space.

In some ways the space is integral to the viewing experience. We are admitted into a personal vision located within the structures of a domestic reality.

Although all of the external reference points suggest banality and normality, here we encounter a crack into a fantastic world of gothic terror, of surreal inventions and one in which extreme emotions rule.

Harrison thrives on the sense of raw primitivism and on unbridled emotions.

In his art he is also a storyteller where the narrative is central to his work as is the identity of Lady Macbeth, Ophelia and Lavinia. Shakespeare's tragic heroines bear witness to a much broader disaster facing the human condition.

His journey to Prague may have been in homage to the artist Petr Herel, but the reality which he conveys in his sculptures bears testimony to past and present nightmares, where the world of tanks, castles and crushed bodies meet.