Art prize show

Canberra Times, Panorama, Saturday March 31, 2007
capital LIFE with Helen Musa

One of the many Canberra artists to have been short-listed for the Phoenix Prize for Spiritual Art opening on April 4, just in time for Easter at the ANU School of Art Gallery , is Stephen Harrison, former cartoonist turned sculptor and painter. He's entering a sculpture Kangarooman (pictured right), into which I imagine viewers will read messages about indigenous Australians. The Phoenix is an open art prize with a value of $5000, awarded first in 2005. Readers will recall that the prize began when the Christian Media Association ACT realized that its goals and purposes were generally being served by its constituent organisations. Its committee decided to use its remaining funds to establish an ongoing cultural prize for artists. It will be fascinating to see how the term “spiritual art” is interpreted.


Kangarooman, by Stephen Harrison, entered for the Pheonix Prize.

“Kangaroo Man” mixed media sculpture, 2006 - Stephen Harrison

I have always been intrigued and interested by aboriginal spirituality, it having informed my painting work for years, and being, I believe, my best and most powerful works. This sculpture is a representation of an Aboriginal man I met in the Northern Territory last year. Although only a young man, he had been initiated into most aspects of tribal lore, including having been given his ‘totem' animal- the Red Kangaroo.
Lessons of compassion, respect, brotherhood as well as notions of good ,evil and taboos of killing and eating ones totem are all wound up in the complex spiritual life of this man.
I find the intimate, almost casual association between the physical and the metaphysical aspect of his life amazing- he is the kangaroo and the kangaroo is him, he considers them his brothers and sisters. He believes when he paints his totem it revives the spirit animal that the man shares with the beast.
Traveling in and around profoundly spiritual sites such as Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and meeting the owners and custodians of these outback cathedrals was one of the most moving and life changing experiences for me.
I have portrayed the man/animal in European bust form, he is ravaged, burnt, scarred- his eyes bloodshot. He is the embodiment of the resilience and perseverance of the inherent belief structures and spiritual concerns of the most ancient living race on this planet.