Brent HARRIS<br/>
born New Zealand 1956, arrived Australia 1981<br/>
<em>embark no. 1</em> 2013<br/>
oil on canvas<br/>
70.0 x 51.0 cm<br/>
The Germanos Collection, Sydney<br/>
© Brent Harris

Melbourne Now countdown – day 73

born New Zealand 1956, arrived Australia 1981

Brent Harris will be exhibiting a set of seven monotypes, the fall (set one), 2012 in Melbourne Now, together with a painting that has evolved from his recent work in the medium.  We caught up with him to discuss this new body of work.

CL Brent, you’ve produced a significant body of monotypes since early 2012. What is it that interests you about the medium?

BH This printmaking technique is the closest to my way of making paintings; even though working in the reverse and in black and white, the imagery surfaces intuitively in the making.

The monotype technique that I have used here is called dark-field – this is where a plate (or as I use, a piece of Perspex) is completely covered in printing ink and then wiped back with a cloth wrapped around a finger; imagery emerges in the light areas where the ink has been removed. It is possible to make changes very quickly and to be lead along by the momentum of the work. Working in this rather intuitive manner, chance imagery surfaces and can be exploited. At the same time a lot of imagery is lost and a lot of interesting imagery gets chewed over in an attempt to find a pictorial cohesion. The most interesting thing for me about this process is not having a preconceived idea, and being free to embrace the seemingly absurd as it surfaces.

CL The imagery you’re exploring in these works is quite distinctive – can you tell us about that?

BH This series of 90 odd monotypes are titled the fall and can generally be seen as a reflection on the absurdity of the human condition. This image (no.9) is typical of the way most of these images have formed. They’re started by making dumb marks in the black ink, until slowly a composition starts to appear that, if strong enough, will drag me along to its cohesion.  So I have not set out telling myself, ‘now I will draw this old guy sitting on a bench’ – he has appeared in the mark making. Once printed I can then start to interpret the imagery – here I see this old man sitting on the bench with his feet in what appears to be a stream or pool. His body is feminising as often the male body does as it ages. I see him sitting alone, the figures and faces behind him are from his mind, his past. I see him about to slip into this stream and disappear. We participate in life for our allotted time, to share with others in joy and sorrow, part of the human condition.

CL The painting embark no.1 2013 that you are also exhibiting in Melbourne Now has a close relationship to a monotype – can you tell us about the evolution of the work?

BH This painting is the first from a new series titled embark. The series was going to be titled shipwreck with the idea being to pursue the narrative of the shipwreck as a metaphor for life (we are already and always shipwrecked).  But I decided on embark as it evoked the start of a journey. This painting has its starting point in one of the monotypes the fall (no.88) now in the collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In the monotype this image appears in the reverse – they are looking back to the past – here in the painting the figures in black are facing to the right, which indicates a transition toward the future. I most often use this movement from left to right as a positive gesture.

A lot of imagery has surfaced over the course of this series of monotypes and now as I proceed on this series of paintings I will mine these to develop new compositions.

embark no.1 2013, courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries