Gabryel Harrison

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River, 2013
Oil and mixed media on canvas
67 x 72”

The urgent, gestural elements in Harrison’s landscape works are closely entwined with the Zen Buddhist practice of haboku, or ‘flung ink’. Composed of graceful hashes of dark ink upon a plain paper ground, haboku paintings possess an essential immediacy where “the world of solid objects seems to dissolve and re-form according to the slow rhythm established by the breath.” We see this in After the Dark and in River: the jittery sienna marks that somehow become woodlands or islands are subsumed by lightness or scraped away again into an activated nothingness. Breath is an essential foundation of Harrison’s work. Both a painter and a poet, Harrison links the architecture of breath upon which all poetry is built to the fluidity of her brushstrokes – a meditative rise and fall across the canvas that, Harrison notes, “gives the viewer the opportunity to project themselves into the gesture of the work.” It’s this inhalation and exhalation – this reforming and dissolution – that connects Harrison’s exploration of natural matter to the atomic core of it. To practicing Buddhists, it’s called the Void; to physicists, it’s called energy, whether it’s the imperceptible vibration of all the atoms in solid matter or the explosion of light and heat that kick – started our universe. Haboku, in all its simplicity, embodies this idea concisely: each form is but a denser accumulation of the energy that surrounds it.

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Heartbeat 2, 2013
Oil on canvas
55 x 77”

The rose is a motif that Harrison has chosen to develop from the impetus of her career. Fully aware and embracing its cliché, the rose has admittedly become the obsessive muse to Harrison’s masterpieces. A line can be drawn between its physical form and a symbolic relation to the creation of life. We begin with a dense center, moving outward layer by layer through a sequence of pattern and growth, becoming increasingly complex and eventually unraveling into the beyond. Not unlike the formation of a planet or the death of a star, it is out of an infinite point of density that creation is primordially borne. Flowers are used on occasions of importance, given in gestures meant to honour, congratulate and mourn. Each incorporation reinforces their aesthetic significance: they are simultaneously an emblem of beauty and of superficial functionality.

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Enigma, 2013
Oil and beeswax on canvas
30 x 40”

On the surface, Harrison’s paintings appear to be about what practitioners of Zen Buddhism may call ‘everyday suchness’ – the notion of perceiving an object only as it is, such as experiencing “a leaf purely as a leaf purely over a period of time”. The rose sheds its signifying layers, its syrupy cliché, and becomes only that: a rose. However, the latent themes in Harrison’s florals and landscapes, which seem darker and more evanescent than they have ever been, reach beyond the meditative ‘suchness’ of still life and into the phenomenological realm through gesture, colour, and poetry.