Is that a testicle in your beard, or are you just glad to see me?

Art Life , Reviews May 03, 2004 No Comments

We received an envelope last week that had a handwritten address on it featuring very attractive looped ‘T’ and ‘A’ s on the words ‘The Art Life and we were impressed by the sender’s penmanship. Normally, enevelopes fron the Art Gallery of NSW come with the standard mailing label and so we knew someone really wanted us to see the contents of the envelope. Investigating further, we found inside a catalogue to Brent Harris’s project show at the AGNSW .

As fans of Harris’s work, we really dig the white line he’s developed over the last few years. (When you work, as Harris does, in a graphic style and everything is very flat, the white line becomes an essential device when defining areas of colour. All hail the white line!). Back in 1989 Harris did a series of works based on the Stations of the Cross and we thought, well, Colin McCahon did that, and so did Barnett Newman, but that’s OK, it’s as good a place as any to go for your universal abstract language. But that didn’t prepare us for the new work.

The new works are portraits of Jesus Christ. Strangely there are no pictures of the work, neither at the AGNSW web site nor at the artist’s Sydney gallery Kaliman and suspecting some sort of conspiracy (a la The Da Vinci Code), we checked all over the web for these pictures and we can’t find them anywhere. We had never thought of Harris as a God-botherer and we wondered if there wasn’t something else behind these images. It’s spooky.

Do you remember the pictures that appeared in The Good News Bible after the King James version was axed? They were line drawings of Jesus and friends, black sweeping lines that looked like a crappy version of Matisse? Well, Brent Harris has taken that style and done a selection of pictures of JC with titles like He Washed Away My Sins, He’s A Saviour, that’s what he is and The Beautiful Face of Christ remembered

Talk about confused, we walked around for days and couldn’t understand what the hell he was on about. According to the very serious and scholarly essay that accompanies the exhibition by Steven Miller, this show is all about picturing the human face and there are heavyweight references to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and their theories of ‘faciality’. We were convinced that the whole thing was serious.

Imagine our surprise when we were talking to a colleague of The Art Life who claimed that far from being pictures of Our Lord and Saviour, Harris’s pictures were in fact cleverly disguised ‘portraits’ of male genitalia. You gotta be kidding! we said. No, our colleague responded, this is dead set. Have a look at the beards – they’re testicles. And the more we looked, yes, we could see naked women, the odd phallus and no! It can’t be – an anus?!!!

Then all the pieces fell into place, as they say. Steven Miller is none other than Steve Miller, songwriter, guitarist and singer with the Steve Miller Band, responsible for hits such as Fly Like An Eagle, Abracadabra and The Joker. Then we remembered how Harris had met Steve when he was touring Australia back in the early 90s and appeared at The Toohey’s Big B-B-Q. We realised that this whole exhibition is a put on. Imagine how red our faces were! We were totally taken in!

Andrew Frost

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