Jeffrey Harris

Woman sitting at table

graphite on paper
255mm x 200mm

signed J. Harris and dated 1971 in graphite upper right


Private collection, Dunedin.


AC: You’ve spoken in the past (in the 1983 “Profiles” TV documentary) about how your paintings are “just a glimpse of what the whole thing is all about.” I...

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Estimate $800 - $1,200
Achieved $961.00

Jeffrey Harris



graphite on paper

signed JH and dated ’88 in graphite lower left

225mm x 280mm

Auction N˚6

Estimate $1,500 - $2,500

Jeffery Harris Interview

by Andrew Clark

AC: You’ve spoken in the past (in the 1983 “Profiles” TV documentary) about how your paintings are “just a glimpse of what the whole thing is all about.” I took this to mean that your practice of thinking about and making images is an extensive, ongoing process, of which paintings are only one possible expression—how does drawing fit into this larger process of artistic engagement?


JH: Paintings are just one component of a whole. Drawing is another component, photography another. Film and writing are others. Each of these are basically separate activities that usually do not overlap or interact. It is just up to me as to which of these activities I wish to focus on and give my attention to, at any particular time. One component can become dominant and lead to the exclusion of other activities, sometimes for years. This has happened recently with painting. When I was very young, drawing became my way of expressing myself or my way of constructing messages or images. I became very fluent at drawing, very skilful and drawing came naturally. When I began to paint, many years later, I found this new (to me) medium difficult at times. That is why many of the major and most important works of mine from the early- to mid-seventies were drawings. Drawing in my body of work has always been separate from painting. The drawings rarely have any equivalent in painting. They stand alone as a separate way of working, a separate way of looking and as a separate body of images. In many ways, I am the opposite of McCahon, who said, “There is only one direction.” For me there are many, possibly too many, directions: too many choices, too many ways of working. It is often only through extreme discipline that I can stay on one path. In this seemingly too-short life, there seem to be only glimpses of what could be possible and of what one might achieve.

AC: It’s interesting that you consider your drawings from the 1970s to be amongst your major works from that period. Can you talk about what advantages and disadvantages drawing has compared to painting, and why you think these particular works were so successful?


JH: I consider some of my drawings from the 1970s to be major works, in so far as they are fully developed and worked out as individual finished artworks. During this period, I was more skilful and able to achieve greater detail and fineness of touch and precision in drawing than I was in painting, a medium that, at the time, I was less technically in command of. Some of the larger drawings from the early 1970s of a visionary nature, featuring floating angels, lovers and other figures (these are mainly from 1970–71, and done in Dunedin) and the drawings from the mid-seventies of family groups or self-portraits with immediate family members, that feature very detailed landscape drawing (which were done while living on Banks Peninsula), I consider amongst the most important and accomplished work I have ever done. They are often superior to my paintings of that period, because of my technical ability to convey through drawing images that have a very focused and intense presence. These major works are accompanied by many smaller drawings (mainly from 1970–71) that are often taken from photographic sources or are drawings from life (many of them of Joanna Paul), as well as crucifixions, scenes of violence, lovers, floating figures, and other visionary scenes. I consider these smaller drawings also finished works, independent and separate from the paintings I was doing at that time. Many of the smaller drawings feature the same qualities (sharpness of line, the use of space and gesture, the shading and positioning of figures), that occur in the larger works. Some of the larger drawings were worked on over a period of up to five days, often working at night.