The Practice of Cultivating Beauty

On Gabryel Harrison’s Collection Learn the Flowers by Pennylane Shen

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.

Beauty however, remains both temporary and transitory.  Harrison observes flowers to be a symbol of "humanity’s fragile transience and our increasingly disembodied relation to the physical world." Like youth, health, fame or fortune the loveliness of Harrison’s roses are fleeting.  Recognizing their ephemeral nature, she presents her floral subjects dramatically past their prime, their outer petals releasing a final exhale. Bursting past full bloom, the roses are often exaggerated by heavy drips of paint. Deep scarlet seeps off a mad bouquet in Everyone Looking for Love, streaming into the scrawled stanza: “Beauty, Fragility...the Torn and Tender…”  An ivory peony weeps unabashedly down the frame in Each Petal Consents. A melodramatic pariah from her group, she is the Miss Havisham of the floral arrangement; a little indignant and a little sad.  Sensual and bold, we see this imagery as a constant theme in Harrison's work, one the artist herself has described as "a final erotic declaration of passion."

Harrison notes that the stain of these roses, the distinct smell of petals and pigment, remain on her hands for days. Like blood or tears, this visceral lasting experience seems to translate itself onto the canvas. It is a stain that demands us not to turn away, but instead to face a passionate and powerful energy head-on. 

Soft Agonies, Gabryel Harrison, 2012

The abstract floral pieces are a new development to this collection; raw, gestural and often untreated they are a push away from the floral still lifes. Spilling Tears and Roses for example, stitches together frenzied strokes of crude red against patches of clay grey, eventually exposing the bare canvas beneath. These paintings are a marriage of the two styles associated with Harrison’s body of work: abstract and representational. In Fiat Lux, a balance of simplified forms and flat planes of colour are purposely arranged against a soft background to create something melancholy and emotional. Ascension suggests a floating floral arrangement, a nostalgic evocation aided by the flecks of fresh leaf greens and yellows.

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.

Shine Your Light, Heartbeat and Poppy represent this best. We see these monumental poppies effloresce to full glory: from the radiant yellow beaming out the center of Shine Your Light to the subdued red rays of the quietly burning Heartbeat, and finally reduced to the dim swell of Poppy, an amassed darkness in a bruised core. 

Despite the tremendous amount of darkness abundant in the series, light always remains a persistent thread throughout Harrison’s work. In her own poem Light Always Comes, she writes:

trusting the dark
blood language, breath, flesh and bone, abandoned infinities
… every new night ablaze with all its spacious stars
light always comes

Whether it is a dull glow in the distance or one that emanates from the roses themselves, she is very conscious of the inclusion of light and the presence of hope.

Of Brightness, Air and Dust, Gabryel Harrison, 2012