Stephen Harrison: You want it darker. Belconnen Arts Centre, 118 Emu Bank, Belconnen. Until March 21, 2021.
In the many years that I have been visiting Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi, almost annually, I have encountered some weird and forlorn piece of sculpture mournfully staring out at me from the cliff face.
The work invariably was completely out of character with anything else in the show and was identified as by Stephen Harrison, ACT.
Although Harrison has been a lively presence on the national and international art scene for several decades, his solo exhibitions have been thin on the ground.
You want it darker is a somewhat bleak view of the world where nightmares, daydreams and a yearning for other realities meet and intersect.
The Harrison dark vision knows no boundaries and seems to effortlessly cross the medium divides as it moves from sculpture to monumental installations and from intimate drawings to bold expressionist paintings.
The obsessive image in the exhibition is that of a lighthouse - an ambiguous beacon of light in a world that is full of darkness and decay.
Virginia Woolf once famously wrote, "Lighthouses are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other".
Harrison's lighthouses speak of this broader metaphysical reality, something that he alludes to in such titles as Tapping the light inside, The glowing ember and The derelict lighthouse.
The scars we share become lighthouses for other people draws on the old proverb, "The scars you share become lighthouses for other people who are headed to the same rocks you hit."
Most of his lighthouses, the sculptural ones as well as the paintings and drawings, are of post-functional, but aspirational objects.
They are scarred objects that exhibit in their patina signs of their passage through life - defeated but not completely destroyed.
The other recurring image in the exhibition is that of an aeroplane, a single-propeller World War II fighter plane that had spent decades within a watery grave.
These are heavily corroded artefacts that once soared above the clouds and now have become relics that carry their own secrets and are imbued with mysteries that have formed over the decades.
The most evocative of the aeroplanes is one strangely titled Praha, a rust-coloured carcass of a warplane, measuring 25 centimetres by 11 centimetres by 75 centimetres, with a strange medieval cathedral sprouting from its body.
Harrison studied at the Canberra School of Art in its heyday under the influential Czech artist Petr Herel and subsequently in homage to his teacher lived in Prague (Praha) that he remembered as a city of great gothic cathedrals and that carried the scars of war.
It is an effective and haunting piece with a surrealist touch.
A highlight of the exhibition is an enigmatic scroll drawing simply titled 17 metres, 9 weeks that winds its way around the walls of the gallery.
The reference is to its physical length and time taken to make and is what the artist describes as a "kaleidoscope of imagery" or a summary of the nightmares that contributed to the imagery in the rest of the exhibition.
It has a haunting intensity and an intimacy that is rare in contemporary art.
Harrison's You want it darker is a bold and confronting exhibition that presents an internalised bleak view of humanity, its impact on the environment and its prospects for the future.
Seeing the exhibition is like leaving the intense glare of a Canberra summer and entering a subterranean cavern in which we encounter deeply disturbing glimpses of a reality distantly known to all of us.
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