The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

EXCLUSIVE ASSASSINATION: Jerry Harris, Artist Represented by if ART Gallery, Activist, and Art Critic

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Photograph of Jerry Harris beside one of his works. Courtesy of Jerry Harris.
Jerry Harris: Exxon Oil King, 2008, found objects, wood, iron, and fiberglass, 16 inches by 8 inches. Courtesy of Jerry Harris and Jacob Vercouteren.

African American sculptor Jerry Harris, who is influenced heavily by the constructivist movement, has been concerned with the depiction of form within the media of bronze, wood, and so on to create thoughtful abstractions. His mastery of the idea of structure is manifested within the strength of the political overtones within the admixture of commonplace objects incorporated within the juxtaposition which elucidates a good balance between aggression and deference. This yin and yang between the primeval elements reflects Harris’s concern for celebrating humanity’s triumph over hardships, both public and personal. In fact, a few of his works allude to a current political situation such as “Exxon Oil King” which attacks the deliberate corporate imperialism of developing nations at the expense of cultural destruction and mad crazy greed. The quiet anger that infuses the sculptures full of symbolism and poetic imagery becomes a necessary re-affirmation of humanity over the rampant commercialism that chokes out the essence of our lives.

Harris is also a foremost activist who promotes a fairly insightful and radical view of the art world at his blog entitled “Black Art World America.” There he expresses his viewpoint that the formal gallery system is dead due its snobbery and the Internet being able to make artists more self-sufficient. This is similar to the pianist Glenn Gould declaring the death of the concert performance in favor of the studio performance on tape which is a stronger statement of the artist. Both Harris and Gould fight against the commodification of art and suggest that overthrowing the current system of the contemporary art world where nepotism, sex, drugs, stylishness often overtake the complexity of the driving concept. Harris is not scared to promote more African American artists which are still under-represented within the art world despite the prominence of artists such as Eugene James Martin, Kara Walker, and Kehinde Wiley.

If you have any questions about Harris’ artwork, feel free to contact his gallery if ART Gallery at (803) 255-0068 or at (803) 238-2351 or at if-art-gallery@sc.twcbc.com.

So here is the moment we all have been waiting for. These are THE ART ASSASSIN’s latest details of this “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes? What is the methodology behind your constructivist sculptures from start to finish, from preparatory studies to the completed work? What types of raw materials (such as wood, stone, bronze, fiberglass, clay, metal, mixed media (found objects), and collage), cultural sources, and equipment do you use to create these final works? And what is an average day like within the Jerry Harris studio? Also how did you get interested in sculpting through your teachers James Lee Hansen and Sir Anthony Caro and develop your own visual vocabulary? How do you think that the new media, ranging from video art to Internet-based projects, will impact people’s appreciation of sculptures, paintings, and photography, which seems to be part of a more traditional and established media, which are interacting with each other in terms of visual motifs and archetypes? Do you feel that as people interact with new media, they will be able to critique the cliches of mainstream media and have a profound understanding of what it means to be human in a world where relationships are created on MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube? As a graduate of Tuskegee University and San Francisco State University, what were those school days like? How was life in the studio like back then? Did you have any influential professors or students during that time and what was their impact on you and your paintings? How did your studies there influence your studio practice? What do you like about the art scene in San Francisco and Chico, California? What do you like about Henry Moore, one of your influences? Do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you enjoy about meals either prepared in a restaurant or home setting? Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around Stockholm, Sweden where you live at for many years at in the Bay Area, where you are based out of or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen? Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the work that you pursue? With your personal interests, how do your hobbies mirror your sculptures? How has life been working in various galleries such as the if ART Gallery in Columbia, South Carolina which represents you for displaying, performing, and promoting your fascinating pieces? What is like working with professional connections throughout the contemporary art world? Does working with non-profits and museums differ much than working with commercial galleries? What are some of your future projects or exhibitions that you will be pursuing soon? So will these new artwork be an extension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or perhaps a different direction instead? Assume that you could create your own personal museum of artwork. Which artists or pieces would you include in the collection and why? What things do you like looking when you are at art museums or galleries anywhere? What types of artwork does your personal tastes gravitate towards? How do you see your work fitting into the canon of African-American contemporary art as well as the overall art scene? Once you got into a debate with Martin Puryear about the status of African-American artists in the art world and that mention that it’s still a predominantly white person’s (male?) world. What is your opinion and how do you see the success of young black artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas in blue-chip galleries at odds with many of the other African-American artists who may not have theconnections to enter into the rarefied art world? How do you promote African-American art to a wider audience and thus acceptance into the canon of museums, major galleries, etc.? What are some things that the art world can do to represent fairly more African-American contemporary art than what is seen nowadays? You were married for many years to your wife Britt-Marie Olofsson-Harris when you were located in Sweden. What was family life like and how did you like the Swedish contemporary art scene? How does it differ from the art world here in the United States? What drew many African American artists such as Herbert Gentry and Harvey Cropper to Sweden rather than mainland Europe? What do you think about the state of contemporary art today? Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your sculptures and upcoming exhibitions here?

Jerry Harris: The English sculptor Henry Moore was a big influence on me. He was much inspired by African sculpture, plus he was a great human being. Then came Arp and Giacometti‘s surrealist period, not the work that he is famous for today. The impact of Martin Puryear haunts me. He is a hard act to follow, and I didn’t graduate from Yale or Harvard. Moore left no school behind him, but his assistant, Sir Anthony Caro, my teacher at St. Martin’s School of Art, London never followed him. I don’t believe that any sculptor should follow anyone. Nothing grows under great trees. Soul music is very important to me, especially jazz artists like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. I think rap music opened a new wave, but at times it gets boring. Prince is the unique one. Lenny Kravitz is good too. Badu is bad.

My favorite writers are Celine, Henry Miller, and Bertrand Russell. Russell’s History of Western Philosophy should be on everyones book shelf. I am an unabashed intellectual. I like the poets Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Blaise Cendrars, all French. I also like the crazy Swedish genius August Strindberg. Anyone who can survive his Inferno is a blessed human being. He is not loved very much in his own country, but no one is king in their own house. I don’t watch television. Basically I am an internet freak. I don’t follow sports. As Oscar Wilde said, “football is for sissies.” He should know.

My last show was at the Chico Art Center. Later this year I will be in an outdoor show in San Francisco. The last exhibition I attended was Martin Puryear’s show at SFMOMA. He is a great craftsman who has taken minimalism to a higher plane. All of my sculptures come from the sublunar. I also spend a lot of time in thrift stores and junk yards. I seek out odd objects because I am an odd person. I work in every conceivable material and use a lot of wood worker’s tools. I love clay, but I usually transform it into fiberglass using Bondo and fiberglass tape.

I am not a morning person. My deceased wife use to warn people not to call me before 12:00 o’clock noon, because one might get their head bitten off. I am a somnambulist. Most of the time in the studio I don’t do anything. I think a lot, but when an idea pops in my mind, I jump on it and begin the creative process. I didn’t get much from my teachers in art school. Personally I have an aversion to schools. I graduated from high school at the bottom of my class. My teachers considered me a loser. This is okay because you set out to prove them wrong. Get out of school and turn your studio into a laboratory. Hopefully it will an explosive one.

I am a happy anarchist. One thing that I did learn in high school was typing. I was the only boy in the class. Of course I chose it because of the girls, but I got my only A in that course. This helped me to become a writer. I am in the process of trying to get my first book published, “Mad Swedes and Black Men.” It is a work of fiction. I have written for Philadelphia City Paper, Pittsburgh News Weekly, Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s national newspaper, Sweden Now, and until my move to California, I was contributing writer for Eugene Weekly, Eugene, Oregon, and I wrote for the Register-Guard, also in Eugene.

I believe that the internet has been great for artists. It has enabled artists to do their thing. It has allowed a whole new group of creatives to escape the pomp world of New York City. New territories are opening up. The conceptualists are branching out. Art occupies so little in American society, but we as artists must try somehow to capture them. Sites like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube are generating new audiences for us.

Back in the day I was lost until I moved to Europe and later moved to Stockholm, Sweden. Europe gave me a type of freedom that I never knew in the United States, but Sweden has produced very little in the art world. I know why, but one has to live there to understand it. I could live there for 100 years and still not be a Swede, and I have never had a desire to be one. I am an American for what it worth.

Cooking is my only hobby. I especially like to cook for friends and enemies. I love Italian cuisine. There are some fine restaurants in Chico, especially Monk’s jazz bar. We all know that San Francisco has great restaurants. I spend a lot of time in the bay area. Chico is beautiful college town, hot as hell (106 F today), but there is no big art scene here. Swedish food is pretty bland, but now with the influx of foreigners, one can get a better choice of food. Swedes are great readers and they are very intelligent. My wife spoke five languages right out of high school.

San Francisco is my spiritual home. It was there that my intellectual mind developed, but I was a “weekend” hippie, and come Monday I was a straight arrow. I am lucky to have an art dealer who is very international. His name is Wim Roefs, and he is director of the iF (international fine art gallery) in Columbia, South Carolina. He is a Dutch man. He is also professor of African American Art at the University of South Carolina. In the art world connections are very important. One can be the greatest artist in the world and get nowhere without connections. I am a lone wolf. I can handle people just so much. They say writers should be read and not seen. This applies to artists in general. I much prefer museum shows. Commercial galleries have their place, and artists need them, but I don’t let them into my life too much. I don’t like snobs. One meets a lot of them in so-called established art galleries. My favorite art critic is the New York based writer, John Haber. I like the work of the deceased painter and African American, Eugene Martin.

I am moving in the direction of public art, although the public with their exiguous minds are always complaining when new work in presented. That’s life I guess. Recently I visited the sculptor Richard Hunt in Chicago. He is definitely a public artist. And at 73 years old, still going strong. Pursuing public art commissions is very competitive, but most sculptors want to go this way. When I visit art galleries and museums, I enjoy artists who are not stuck with a style. My old art teacher at Portland State University in Oregon, James Lee Hansen, now about 80, is still doing the same old same old. One must destroy old ideas.

African American artists still have a bad time in the white dominated galleries and museums. Sure there are a few out there, Puryear, Hunt, Sam Gilliam, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, and Howardena Pendell, but more must be opened up. Willie Cole is an exceptional artist. One day African American artists will dominate the art world like they have done in football and basketball. Usually when America reaches the bottom of the barrel they go to black people.

My wife Britt-Marie Olofsson-Harris was a big influence on me. She and her family dealt with my growing pains. Like everyone else going to Sweden, it is all about the women. They brought us there, but it is not a country where I would like to die in. That was the sad part about artists like Herbert Gentry and a lot of African American artists in Sweden. My wife never wanted me to live there because she felt that America was the best place for my temperament, and she was absolutely right. If one is passive, Sweden is the best place in the world, but even a happy socialist needs a break.

Art in America today is in bad shape. Newly minted artists with their BA’s and MFA’s hit the scene and want to be famous. It doesn’t go that way. Yes, we have dudes like Jeff Koons, “a business man artist ” who is probably laughing all the way to the bank, but one should love what they do, and if the money comes in, that is fine too. Money scares the hell out of me because I am not good with it. When I attend many MFA shows I leave very saddened. There is no meat on the table, mostly bones clean as a whistle, and that is what they serve up. Oh they say, “We want to take meaning out of art.” Well, why become an artist? As Vincent Van Gogh said, “We are not put on this earth to merely happy. We are here to supersede the ignorance of mankind and create.”

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

October 1, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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