Kevin Harris shows layers of experience in prints, drawings
By Jane A. Black
Kevin Harris’ new exhibition at Sinclair Community College is a 10-year survey of drawings, prints and collages. While on the surface, they appear to be quite varied – ranging from torn paper compositions in clear, bright color to moody, barely narrative, black-and-white monotypes – there are commonalities, both aesthetic and material.
The most apparent connection is the strong, sure mark of this artist’s hand. This exhibit successfully communicates the immersion in seeing, thinking and making that is at the center of an accomplished artist’s being. “The threads that run through my work are texture and layers, both of meaning and process,” said Harris.
Looking at the work chronologically, the earliest is a group of small collages. These date to 2000 and were the outcome of a journaling exercise that has become a way of life for the artist. Harris picked up the methodology from Kimon Nicolaides’ “The Natural Way to Draw.” The book’s simple advice, from the “daily composition” section, is to create a 10-minute drawing every day, based on a memory of something seen in the past 24 hours. The title of the show, “Compositions: Kevin Harris” is derived from this practice.
The premise of the show is that it covers the years in which Harris has been teaching at Sinclair from 2000 to 2010. A full professor in the SCC Art Department, he is a graduate of Hampton University (1983) and the University of Cincinnati (M.F.A., 1988). Some pieces in the exhibit seem to speak of Harris’ dual role as educator and artist, such as the line drawings of musicians done with a ballpoint pen, an elegant grouping that is so evocative as to be practically audible. These are the “blind gestures, ‘Live From the Elephant Room’ each created as quickly as a sax riff without looking at the drawing page,” referred to in his artist’s statement. Gesture
drawing is one of the first lessons a beginning drawing student undertakes – capturing the line, weight and energy of the body in a few quick strokes.
Another corner of the gallery holds woodblock prints and drawings of skeletons from 2007-2009, along with a colored pencil piece that captures political overtones from the 2004 election year. The anatomical subject matter is another academic mainstay in the drawing studio, but for Harris, the subject evokes many psychological and personal meanings.
During 2009 and 2010, the 49-year-old resident of Franklin, visited Paris and Amsterdam among other places, creating thousands of digital images and filling sketchbooks. “Each one could be expanded upon,” he mused. “There are so many I want to do – that can be a roadblock. So I stick with the one that sticks most with me.”
In addition to a vibrant colored pencil drawing from the Paris subway and a lyrical pen-and-ink drawing of bicycles weaving through Amsterdam, there are a multitude of monotypes, cyanotypes and Van Dyke prints that were created in the studio, based on Harris’ travel photographs.
“I begin with the photographs that had the strongest impact on my memory,” Harris explained, describing the monotypes. “I make a digital print, draw on it and then use that to make a stencil. I ink the stencils, print them and flip them, run them through the press again. I add additional textures with materials laid on top of the paper.” He likes working in monotypes because he can do a lot of them fairly quickly. In fact, as you look carefully at the shapes, which are a beautiful contrast of sharp edges and soft, rubbed grays, it is possible to pick out how one print appears within another larger one. This is confirmed by the nomenclature, such as “Montparnasse I” and “Montparnasse II.”
Sometimes, one of the “series” of monotypes goes awry. This is also in evidence – in that, rather than abandoning the piece, Harris will turn to a different material. And thus, what would have been “Montparnasse III” became “CLZ,” an exuberant scribble of graffiti-like lines and text on the dark ground of a “failed” monotype, and a piece that draws the visitor’s eye, radiating with urban energy from the very center of the gallery.
The alternative photography processes he uses, blue cyanotype and brown Van Dyke prints, are also intimately tied to his teaching career. He requires his printmaking students to try his making-a-silk-purse-out-of-a-sow’s-ear method, using another medium to turn a less successful print into a new and better finished artwork. One photo student came back from this assignment with prints repurposed by the old-school photo methods.
Harris immediately saw the potential and tapped fellow professor Rick Jurus to learn how to make his own. “It’s a little like printing and a little like drawing,” he said, referring to how the chemicals are applied over the image. These pieces, being monochromatic, also play on one of Harris’ most pronounced strengths – his absolute assurance in how a work of art is laid out. “I like working in color,” he says. “But black and white tests composition.”
It’s important to Harris that he begins with a photo that is strongly tied to a memory. “Memory affects perception, and I have always explored this. It’s why everyone interprets things differently.”
“Compositions: Kevin Harris” is on view through Feb. 2 on the fourth floor of Bldg. 13 on the Sinclair campus, at the corner of Fifth and Perry Streets. The Burnell Roberts Triangle Gallery is open 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday. Meet the artist during a reception on Thursday, Jan. 13, 5 – 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact C. Pat McClelland at (937) 512-2253. Harris also has an upcoming show with James Pate at Visceral Gallery, in Centerville, in Feb. 18.