Curated by Maria Zagala and co-presented with the TarraWarra Museum of Art, which showed an earlier iteration of the exhibition, Surrender and Catch features more than 150 paintings, drawings, studies and prints. It showcases Harris’s impressive oeuvre and presents the full breadth of his practice, which oscillates between abstraction and figurative work, and encapsulates humour and the grotesque.

“I think the interesting thing people discovered when they visited the exhibition at TarraWarra, was to see the trajectory of a life,” Harris told InReview ahead of the launch of the exhibition at AGSA.

“It’s a life that’s been laid out in imagery and it’s a life that’s been laid out psychologically through my work. I believe people connect with that. They understand there’s a lot of psychological engagement and people will come to it in their own way.”

The Adelaide exhibition ­­is broader than the previous display in Victoria, drawing on both TarraWarra and AGSA’s significant collections, as well as loans from public and private collections.

Harris’s personal experiences have often informed his work, sometimes without him realising it. He had a difficult childhood growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand, which resulted in fractured familial relationships. In his 20s, Harris relocated to Melbourne, where he became part of the gay scene during the AIDS epidemic. This formed the basis for his artistic practice, which delves into psychological therapy, relationships with family members, and our relationship to death and what follows.

Brent Harris, Christ before Pilate No. 1 from the series The Stations of the Cross 2021, oil and charcoal on linen 75.0 x 60.0 cm. Courtesy the artist and Robert Heald Gallery. © Brent Harris

“When I was a younger man, AIDS was very present. Mortality was in my life in a very big way for five to 10 years at an early age,” he explains.

“But now I’m 67 and my oblivion is starting to appear as a stronger picture and it’s creeping into my work again.”

The earliest work in the exhibition is Weeping Woman, from 1987.

“It’s not a reference to Picasso, which you think it might be, you know, because of his Weeping Woman painting in the NGV, but it’s really a reference to my mother,” says Harris. “When I blew up with my father, my mother in a way lost me at that point. We would speak once or twice a year, for the next 25 years.”

Like Picasso’s painting, Harris’s Weeping Woman encapsulates emotion and portrays pain and suffering.

Harris’s work often depicts Biblical themes and iconography. In 1989 he developed The Stations, his first major series exploring the death of his friends to AIDS. Harris uses the story of Jesus walking to his death – the Stations of the Cross – as a powerful way to represent the suffering and death from the AIDS pandemic.

In 2021, he returned to the subject and both iterations are on display in the exhibition, demonstrating his development of forms over time. The earlier series is more abstract, while the later series is more figurative.

“During COVID was a perfect time for me to revisit that subject matter, the story of a young man, Jesus, 33, judged this morning, dead this afternoon,” says Harris.

“In 1989, the series was very much about the suffering of a young man, judged and dead quickly. But now it’s become more personal, the works are a bit gentler and it’s about my own mortality.”

Brent Harris, Grotesquerie, 2008. oil on linen, diptych, 191.0 x 127.0 cm (each panel); gift of AGSA Contemporary Collectors 2008. © Brent Harris

Even though Harris often explores difficult ideas, he incorporates humour and the absurd into his work. This is evident in the series Appalling Moment, which he developed following a six-month residency in Paris where he was rebelling against the art he encountered and his own abstract paintings. Following this came the Swamp series, characterised by precise dripping forms, and his most significant body of work, Grotesquerie.

Psychological therapy has greatly influenced Harris’s work; in fact, it was his therapist who introduced him to the writings of sociologist Kurt H Wolff and psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut. The title of the exhibition, Surrender and Catch, is derived from notions explored in Wolff’s writings.

Brent Harris, Appalling Moment E, 1994, oil on linen, 71.0 x 55.0 cm; private collection. © Brent Harris

The method Harris uses to make monotype prints echoes Wolff’s idea of surrender and catching. Starting with black ink rolled onto the surface, Harris smudges it and wipes it off until an impression starts to appear. He is surrendering to the process to see what image he might catch.

Austrian-born American psychoanalyst Kohut is best known for his development of self-psychology, and Harris has adopted his philosophies in his life and his art practice.

“The reassembled self is an idea that we continually put ourselves together, and we’re never going to make a whole person out of ourselves,” he says. “There’s always something, eating away at us. The idea of reassembling yourself is just life; it’s the assemblage of the self.”

Surrender and Catch documents Harris’s development in his printmaking, drawing and painting practice over his extensive career. Harris has been inspired and influenced by other artists and this exhibition highlights some of these with prints by Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and fellow New Zealand artist Colin McCahon on display. The exhibition will be laid out chronologically, allowing audiences to see how Harris’s life and practice has formed over time.

Brent Harris: Surrender and Catch is showing at the Art Gallery of South Australia from July 6 until October 20.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard