Monday, October 12, 2015

A Search for Meaning

“I don't suppose you do know precisely what you are after.
I don't think in the creative process anyone quite knows.
They have a vague idea - a beckoning, an inkling of some truth -
it is only in the process that it comes to any clarity.

Lawren Harris

The painter Lawren Harris is one of Canada’s best kept secrets. A member of the highly influential early 20th Century artistic association The Group of Seven, Harris is considered by many to be one of Canada’s leading artists whose landscapes from the 1920’s regularly attract million dollar hammer falls at auction. But south of the border Harris is virtually an unknown.

As the deputy director of curatorial affairs at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, Cynthia Burlingham, told the artnet news last month With very few exceptions, I have not met an American who knows Lawren Harris, unless they are married to a Canadian or have lived in Canada."

Born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth Harris inherited the Massey-Harris industrial fortune and consequently was able to devote his life to his art.

As a 19 year old Harris spent three years in Berlin prior to the First World War where he produced a series of Impressionist-influenced, decorative landscapes. He also became interested in the quasi-religious philosophy of the Theosophical Society whose teachings were to have a profound effect upon his work.

After a stint in the Canada army during WWI, Harris returned to his easel to paint the Canadian wilderness and over a ten year period made a series of paints that today are considered to be his finest works.

About which he is reported to have said “If we view a great mountain soaring into the sky, it may excite us, evoke an uplifted feeling within us. There is an interplay of something we see outside of us with our inner response. The artist takes that response and its feelings and shapes it on canvas with paint so that when finished it contains the experience.”

After a messy divorce and remarriage in his 40’s along with his continuing search for spiritual enlightenment Harris adopted abstraction as the primary motivation for his painting.

“Abstract art is a creative interplay between the conscious and the unconscious, with the conscious mind making all the final decisions and in control throughout,” he is reported to have said.

For the next 30 odd years, until his death in 1970, Harris painted spiritually influenced abstract works that reflected his life long search for meaning.

As he has been reported as saying “The primary function of art is not to imitate or represent or interpret, but to create a living thing; it is the reduction of all life to a perfectly composed and dynamic miniature – a microcosm where there is perfect balance of emotion and intellect, stress and strain resolving itself, form rhythmically poised in three dimensions.”

The exhibition The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris is currently on show at the Hammer Museum until the 24th of January next year.

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