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A wing and a prayer

Ben Reid talks about death, food, sin, sex - "the stuff of life" - with artist Stephen Harrison.

Death and Angels, contradictions brought to life through lush oils, corroded steel, sepia tones and darkness ."When painting, you're painting humanity, in some sense," artist Stephen Harrison says.

Harrison is exhibiting a years worth of working Head in the Wing, in the Corridor Gallery at Gorman House. "I've had a few people come up to me and ask, 'have you found faith?', or 'are you a Christian?' Angels seem to tap into something loved by many people, it's not as big as God, it doesn't have to be about religion, they're angels."

There are other common threads throughout the exhibition; themes of aeroplanes and flight, death and darkness; sometimes all explored within the context of one artwork.

"I revisit certain themes, with a tendency towards the stuff of Shakespeare - death, food, wine, sex - the stuff of life," he says. "It's not rehashing, but someone famous once said that we only ever paint the one picture throughout our lives, but from different perspectives, in different ways. That's true for me."

Harrison uses a variety of mediums in Head in the Wing, with an emphasis on painting, but also examples of drawing, ink-washes and elements of sculpture.

He graduated from the Canberra School of art some 12 years ago with a degree in graphic investigation, but was drawn increasingly towards painting in the years that followed. He was also a cartoonist with the Canberra Times for a few years and still does occasional freelance cartoon work to, "pay the bills." "I've certainly always felt that the cartoon work paid for my oil and canvasses - that's the reward in it,' he says. "Being a freelance cartoonist I can keep my paintings pure, do it for the love of painting without having to worry about selling paintings. Although sometimes, thankfully, they do sell themselves."

Harrison has had shows in Canberra , Sydney , and Melbourne , and as far afield as Paris . That eventuated, he says by tagging along with his girlfriend: no galleries booked, but a heap of paintings packed, just in case.

"It was like Australia was the flavour of the month when I was there," he says. "It was a good time to be an Australian . the enigma of it . all they seemed to associate with Australia was the kangaroos and big red rocks. It was also great to get overseas and absorb the culture of art they have there.

The experience highlighted for me the universal language of painting - with it being visual-based we could still communicate despite the language barrier.

I had always thought of my work as being very European with it's use of darkness and colour - the main comment I got, however, was that it was uniquely Australian. The colour gum-nut green, for instance is not very common in Europe ."

Head in the Wing, is showing in the Corridor Gallery, Gorman House.