Michael Harrison

Moment of Change/Midnight

1987–94
acrylic on paper (diptych)
305mm x 225mm (each panel)

signed Michael Harrison in graphite lower left and inscribed 26.9.87/23 x 30 cm/5.9.92/21.1.93/10.2.93/Midnight/14-2-93/17-2-93/18.2.93/20.2.93/13.7.93/7.10.93/14.10.93/31.12.93/28-6-94/11.7.94/13.7.94/14.7.94/25.7.94/5.10.94 in graphite verso (left panel); Vavasour Godkin Gallery label affixed verso (left panel); signed Michael Harrison in graphite lower right and inscribed 1987/23.9.87/5.3.93/21.6.93/22.6.93/Moment of Change/13.7.93/2.10.93/6.10.93/7.10.93/15.10.93/12.10.93 in graphite verso and 16.10.93 in graphite left verso; Vavasour Godkin Gallery label affixed verso (right panel)

Provenance

Private collection, Auckland. Acquired from Vavasour Godkin Gallery, Auckland, November 1994.

Essay

SB: Your work is filled with recurring symbols (cats, dogs, birds, antlers, hearts and couples). Can you elaborate on their significance?

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Estimate $6,000 - $9,000
Achieved $10,210.60

Michael Harrison

Moment of Change/Midnight

1987–94

acrylic on paper (diptych)

signed Michael Harrison in graphite lower left and inscribed 26.9.87/23 x 30 cm/5.9.92/21.1.93/10.2.93/Midnight/14-2-93/17-2-93/18.2.93/20.2.93/13.7.93/7.10.93/14.10.93/31.12.93/28-6-94/11.7.94/13.7.94/14.7.94/25.7.94/5.10.94 in graphite verso (left panel); Vavasour Godkin Gallery label affixed verso (left panel); signed Michael Harrison in graphite lower right and inscribed 1987/23.9.87/5.3.93/21.6.93/22.6.93/Moment of Change/13.7.93/2.10.93/6.10.93/7.10.93/15.10.93/12.10.93 in graphite verso and 16.10.93 in graphite left verso; Vavasour Godkin Gallery label affixed verso (right panel)

305mm x 225mm (each panel)

Auction N˚6

Estimate $6,000 - $9,000

Achieved $10,210.60

Michael Harrison Interview

by Serena Bentley

SB: Your work is filled with recurring symbols (cats, dogs, birds, antlers, hearts and couples). Can you elaborate on their significance?

 

MH: I’m not sure how usefully I can elaborate in words—I am interested in the way symbol systems can operate as visual language. At age 19 or 20 I got interested in tarot cards. Every pictorial element of a tarot card is intended to convey specific meanings. While “reading” the cards, they alter your feelings and thoughts by non-verbal means.

Of course, the same recurring symbols can be found in art all through history and many books have been written about symbols and their meanings. All the motifs I’ve used over the years do have personal significance—this, I think, is necessary to create convincing works of art. You always need a starting point, in any case. So most of my subject matter is more or less related to direct experience, but the creative process inevitably transmutes things.

My wish is for the viewer of my work to react in a spontaneous, personal way, but I have no control over those reactions and accept they won’t necessarily be positive. Reactions tend to depend on whatever the viewer consciously or unconsciously projects on to the art. Different people looking at my work will make different associations according to the knowledge, beliefs and feelings they bring with them.

SB: On the flip side, can these symbols also be employed as tools to build a composition?  How do you construct your paintings?

 

MH: If the design of an artwork is without charm, that will obviously serve to weaken the effect of any symbol used. For this reason, and simply due to aesthetic sense, I think very carefully about the formal arrangements within a picture. What exactly is giving each work a life of its own?

However I decide to arrange the pictorial elements, my decisions are intuitive. I assume this guiding intuition derives mostly from unconscious memories of all the other art I’ve ever looked at. It’s important to have an extensive picture library inside your mind devoted to art history, as well as contemporary art (at least for what I’m interested in), besides an idiosyncratic sense of what looks “good” and what doesn’t.

In terms of everyday process, most of my pictures are constructed in relation to previous works—works of mine that I’m not happy with present a persistent challenge. Can I fix this or that particular pictorial problem which has been annoying me, sometimes for years? There’s always hope.

SB: What are some of the most resonant memories/images in your “picture library?”

 

MH: As I said before, art history plays a part in the mental library, but of course there are also memories of things such as going to the beach, playing in native forest, watching animals and just living with them around—the kinds of things most people in New Zealand used to have experience of. Then there are illustrations and photos from all the books and magazines I’ve ever looked through, plus photos of friends and family.

I used to physically cut out pictures from newspapers and magazines, and do a lot of photocopying. Now I collect pictures from the web and take many more photographs as potential source material. The volume of all this visual information means it is really difficult to pick favourites—sometimes it is a matter of making a decision, any decision, and hoping the unconscious mind sorts things out.