A Sense of strength and magic

By Sasha Grishin

Nights of wine and steel. Stephen Harrison, Canberra Contemporary Art Space,
(Bitumen River Gallery). 9 Furneaux Street , Manuka: daily 11am-5pm , till June 21.

STEPHEN HARRISON'S work in the past has always been characterized by its Romantic heroic boldness, but now it also exhibits a growing technical maturity.

It's always difficult for a young artist, particularly one working on a large scale, to strike a balance between technical refinement and the rawness of imaginative inventiveness. Much of Harrison 's imagery commands a confrontational directness, in which forms are permitted to emerge from within the surface film of the paint.

In the two major paintings at this exhibition, Big Red Death and Narrative: Angels, aeroplanes and death, which also are probably the two most successful works, the slippery, glossy, surfaces, with passages of quite lovely painting, the fallen angels, and the steel plates create their own web of ambiguity.

In a number of other paintings, including The conference of angels, Shrouded angel, Angel child, Angel torso, and The White Wing, there is a most effective contrast between the narcissistic eroticism, expressed in smooth painted areas of angelic softness, and areas of caustic acidity.

To some extent it is this rapid transition in mood, which is reflected in the fabric of the paint, that gives Harrison 's work it's sense of strength and magic.

While Stephen Harrison's obsession with model fighter aeroplanes, angels and death has remained constant, his technical maturity has grown since his last solo exhibition in this gallery.