HARRIS, Brent; Station X (The disrobing)
By Peter McKay
Prominent Australian painter and printmaker Brent Harris treads the lines between figuration and abstraction. This important early work illustrates Harris’s journey from geometric abstraction and the heavy influence of seminal New Zealand painter Colin McCahon (1919–87) towards the idiosyncratic exploration of the mind and body for which he is renowned.
Station X (The disrobing) is from a body of work referred to as ‘The Stations’, which includes a series of 14 paintings and a separate corresponding portfolio of prints (edition 11 of 14 of these prints is also held in the Gallery’s Collection). The work refers to the Christian narrative of the events endured by Jesus Christ, also known as the Stations of the Cross. The X of the title, here corresponding to the number ten, represents Christ being stripped of his garments.(1) Station X is in many respects the most distinctive composition in the series; it is the only work to explore a curving form — in this instance, evoking Christ’s robe — and foreshadows Harris’s later, more organic works. The other works in this series are also based on the Stations of the Cross but are dominated by vertical and horizontal bands; Harris said that he 'wanted [this work] to have a softness and sensuality, a humbling presence'.(2)
Harris’s statement on his artistic influences at the time is illuminating:
['The Stations' is] me trying to understand McCahon and wanting to embrace his work … I think two of the strongest people for McCahon were Barnett Newman and Rothko. I also see Elsworth Kelly … I guess things were difficult for [McCahon] in New Zealand at that time when the term would have been plagiarism — not appropriation. Whatever the term or difficulty connected to such practices McCahon still used the work of other painters to develop his own vision.(3)
Interestingly, his relationship to appropriation seems akin to a traditional apprenticeship under the artists he most admired; many at the time were using appropriation as a strategy for scrutinising the notion of originality, and also authority in relation to assumed cultural and historical perspectives.
Station X is a recent gift to the Queensland Art Gallery from James Mollison AO. Mollison is a former director of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. This significant gift is a testament to his continued commitment to the development of public institutions in Australia.
Peter McKay, Artlines 2-2012, p.36.
1. JCJ Metford, Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend, Thames and Hudson, London, 1983, p.232.
2. Notes supplied by the artist, 1989, Queensland Art Gallery Research Library Artist File.
3. Brent Harris, quoted in Ashley Crawford, ‘Brent Harris: Between quotation and homage’, Tension, no.15, 1988, p.20.