Silence in Paradise
Friday June 2
Art historian Edward Hanfling praises Felix Harris for “the scope of his pictorial sensibility” as well as his “capacity for unfettered imagination,” commenting that it seems “as if he paints in the same way that some people write diaries” (Art New Zealand, Winter 2022). Harris’s visual diary, in its double nature (as writing and image), might be best understood as the product of a thought process marked by everyday language, deployed in the context of an inverted and profoundly personal visual vocabulary.
Harris’s paintings are permeated with sayings that are close kin to contemporary “memes”––brief phrases echoed endlessly across what we now call the “metaverse,” such as “My body is a temple” or “Death to the Dictator.” In contrast, his images are unexpected, even awkward, played against the slippery slickness of the quoted phrases, which often draw upon the titles of films and novels: Silence in Paradise; The Go-Between; Ship of Fools (which manages, among other things, to be the title of a famous painting, a novel, a film and more recently a video game––the phrase itself originating in Plato’s The Republic, Book VI).
The artist himself is a quiet, thoughtful man, approaching the middle of his life’s journey, a journey that has left him chastened and subdued by its vicissitudes. His art, however, seems forever youthful, almost innocent, expressing continued amazement at the vagaries of human behaviour.
As viewers we are asked to take the position of a kind of contemporary Candide, a character created by Voltaire, the nom de plume of an eighteenth century French philosopher. We are requested to ponder, not with despair, but with disbelief, and perhaps indignation, the abuses that define contemporary culture, without forgetting the perennial pleasures of light, form and colour that Harris’s paintings offer us. In this sense, the artist asks us to be both Voltaire who criticises the unthinking celebration of life, but also Candide who never truly abandons his joy in this world. This joy takes us by surprise in an existence marked by sorrow, indignity and injustice, encouraging us to cultivate our gardens as Candide chose to do at the conclusion of his travels.
Felix Harris (b. 1978, Dunedin, New Zealand) grew up surrounded by a family of artists and intellectuals who encouraged him to develop his imaginative capacities. He graduated from the Elam School of Fine Arts in 2006, continuing his education with a Bachelor of Art and Design (Honours) from Auckland University of Technology (awarded 2014). He has travelled extensively overseas and was based in Seattle, Washington, from 2007 to 2009. An active visual artist, he has also worked as a producer/emcee under the name “fatigue,” with contemporary music continuing to play an important role in his life. Recent activities include, as artist, the solo exhibition “Magical Thinking” at RDS Gallery, 11 February–12 March 2022, and, as co-curator, “Joanna Margaret Paul–The Amorous Encounter,” at Brett McDowell Gallery, 26 August–15th September 2022. Harris, an avid and eclectic viewer and reader, counts a wide spectrum of artists––from Marlene Dumas to R. Crumb––as well as a varied array of authors such as Charles Bukowski, Roland Barthes, Gabor Maté, and Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, popularly known as “Rumi”––as significant influences on his work.