Painter Jeffrey Harrison’s latest solo exhibition, Vital Visions: The Expressionistic Realism of Jeffrey Harrison, opened last Friday at Georgia Amar's Habitat Gallery. In the show, Harrison breaks through the boundaries of realism with pieces that take on traditional figurative subjects: portraits and the nude.
A Colorado native, Harrison grew up in the Englewood area and explored his natural surroundings, which sparked a sense of imagination that sent him to the University of Colorado Denver, where he obtained a BFA in painting. “I kind of studied a lot of things there,” he says, including English literature and philosophy. “Those other humanities were really important to me, too.”
He cites Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Andrew Wyeth as major artistic influences. “They were trying to bring a spiritual narrative to their works, and that’s something that interests me,” Harrison explains.
And it shows: Harrison’s work centers on mythological themes and spiritual-based psychology — but he approaches these topics from a figurative perspective.
“I haven’t painted particular mythological characters the way earlier painters did,” Harrison says. “A lot of modern viewers aren’t familiar with those stories anymore.” So his approach is to tease out mythical elements, putting them in a more relevant context.
“All of the mythological tales are about energy,” he explains. And whether he’s working on a figure or a portrait, he tries to capture the energetic presence of his subject.
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Harrison’s specialty is hyperrealism, and his oil paintings appear almost photo-realistic in their execution; he'll play with expressionism and romanticism, too. “Sometimes I get really into the detail, and other times I just want to spread the paint around,” he notes.
Lately, Harrison has been experimenting with pieces he calls soulscapes. “Those are more abstract, obviously, and more along the lines of the archetypal, energetic forms,” he says.
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The soulscapes were inspired by photography's ability to capture movement via a slow shutter speed. “When you do that in photography, the color gets washed out because of the long exposure,” explains Harrison, so he decided he would “bring in a whole different element of vibrant color relationships.”
“I call them soulscapes because it’s my vision of an astral plane, if you will,” adds Harrison. “The souls that animate our bodies are vibrating.”
With portraits, though, “I’m really trying to be more accurate to the physical appearance of the person,” Harrison says. As he paints, he’ll attempt to “draw out what the person is about.” That can be a time-consuming endeavor. For “Secret,” for example, Harrison estimates that he spent sixty to eighty hours capturing the model’s vivacious energy.
“I don’t know the story of a painting before I begin,” he admits. “I am just visualizing the general technical aspects like color, composition and value as I get under way, but it’s the revelation of a narrative during the painting process that keeps me coming back to the canvas again and again.”
“I’m one of those people who is interested in everything,” Harrison continues. So he’s also a photographer, sculptor and musician, “mostly rock in the tradition of Jackson Browne and Tom Petty,” he says. And for two decades, he and his wife have operated Goddess Isis Books and Gifts, an independent bookstore in Englewood.
Harrison’s exhibition runs through August 26 at Georgia Amar's Habitat Gallery, at 828 Santa Fe, which is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information on Harrison, visit his website.