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Gothic pleasure unfolds

Canberra Times, Times2, Thursday February 22, 2007
Review by Sasha Grishin

Stephen Harrison: Blue Thylacine, other drawings and the decayed city sculptures. Megalo Gallery, 49 Philip Avenue, Watson. Closes Saturday. Monday-Saturday, 9.30am - 5pm.

To say that there is something dark and Gothic about Stephen Harrison's imagination would be a gross understatement.
A simple list of titles of his previous exhibitions reads like titles in the horror section of the average suburban video store. They include Screaming Red Dingo, Blood on the Wings, Angels and Aeroplanes, Nights of Wine and Steel, Mr Kafka's Core, and Shakespeare's Girls, The Blood Babies and The Gnarled Blackened Castles of the Golden City of Prague.

As you enter this exhibition you are greeted by a dark satanic cat and an owl-like bird.

It is certainly a walk on the dark side of the human consciousness, where law and civilised behavior have been removed and the wild libidinal urges of the id have been given free reign.

In his work he hints at many levels of reality and, while there is a graphic narrative, there is no direct illustrative intent and the work may refer to many different realities and situations.

The graphics in this exhibition span about a decade of the artist's practice with evidence of the absolute fecundity of his gothic imagination.

At their best they include Nos 16, 23 and 76 - all untitled. Harrison graduated in 1987 from what was then the Canberra School of Art (now the ANU School of Art), from what was then one of its leading workshops, the Graphic Investigation Workshop, headed by remarkable Czech-born artist Petr Herel.

Stephen with Dark City

DARK VISION: Stephen Harrison with some of his decayed city sculptures

In his own work, Herel frequently drew on his Bohemian gothic heritage which seems to have struck a receptive chord with Harrison.

Harrison has not followed the great mystical subtlety of Herel's art, but instead has followed him on a journey into the surreal, with an appetite for ghoulish imagery.

The strength of this exhibition is the sculptural assemblages, especially Dark city, with their sense of apocalyptic carnage within a general eschatological atmosphere. What I find disconcerting is that the artist seems to be enjoying the experience of violence and urban decay.

He writes, “The sculptures exhibited have a physicality of size and presence. They tell of cities gone mad, invaded and rotting, of Aboriginal spirits and totem animals, and of dark houses with cathedrals embedded in their skulls. It's a pleasure!”

It is a particular Gothic pleasure which is celebrated in the singular vision of Stephen Harrison.