A Message from Pat Harris from RHA Dublin
A Message from Pat Harris, ARHA
The lockdown has been in place for more than three months now.
Looking back, I remember my initial disappointment at having to cancel an exhibition of my work scheduled to open on the second of April at Purdy Hicks Gallery, London. However, the disappointment quickly changed to a sort of wonder as I began to experience the stillness that the lockdown brought. The world had stopped spinning. Skies were crystal clear, free from the crisscross scars that aircraft constantly make, streets were empty and there was nowhere to go, except my studio. In that I’m lucky, my studio is at home. It was a time for reflection.
As a painter I’m accustomed to working in isolation, I need it for my work, and so I just continued on my merry way with my own little obsessions. I was working on a series of paintings based on the changes that the light of North Mayo constantly brings to this landscape. It’s a landscape in constant flux and so too is my process of painting. Things are put down, painted over, scraped away, moved and repainted. It’s a process of doubt and reflection and the space that the lockdown gave allowed for this slowness and I doubted more and for longer.
As the weeks grew to months, days lost their names and time only existed between the layers of paint I applied or scrapped away. I missed seeing friends and loved ones and especially my children and my granddaughter of 17 months, she lives in England and I now wonder how long it will take before I can hug the little treasure. I believe it may well be this longing for friends and loved ones that has seen me return to portraiture.
While my early work was chiefly concerned with the human figure: portrait and nudes, I haven’t painted a portrait in more than 35 years, that is until a few weeks ago. I’m now working on a portrait of my son Aaron, based on a sketch I made of him on Father’s Day, 2018. The struggle I’m having with this portrait has increased my admiration for the many colleagues at the Academy that practice this noble art. Painting portraits is not for he faint hearted. I remember how eloquently Francis Bacon spoke of portrait painting in his interviews with David Sylvester, first published in 1975. It is a remarkable book. He speaks of the impossibility of portrait painting, something I’m very much experiencing now. He references the late Rembrandts and Velázquezs’ and even now, after 45 years, it’s still a remarkable read. The huge challenge is how to make a portrait that’s also a painting. I have had, in the last weeks, a portrait but not a painting and then a painting but not a portrait. The small canvas is now a mountain of Pentimenti and doubts, but if I get to conclude this painting, in these nameless lockdown days, I’ll show it at the Annual Exhibition, as a testament to my survival.
Pat Harris, ARHA