Few painters have rendered the Southwest and its dramatic landscapes as fluidly as Gregory Frank Harris. Deftly harmonizing movements as diverse as Impressionism, Fauvism, and 17th-century Dutch landscape painting with American Tonalists like George Innes, color-field painters like Wolf Kahn, and the squeegee-sculpted paintings of German abstract expressionist Gerhard Richter, Harris creates pictures in motion as opposed to static-y portraits. His canvases move, not excitedly but steadily. They not only advance and recede, toying with our perceptions of foreground and background, they seem to move laterally as well.
“I like to create these paintings as a form of abstraction,” says Harris. “But if you step back, the landscape comes into sharper focus. I also like to emphasize the sky, making it as important as the land itself—maybe more.”
A bit of a peripatetic soul, Harris was born, alongside his twin brother, in 1953 in southern California to a painter mother and a geologist-miner father. He took to art and music simultaneously as a child—singing, playing the piano, drawing, and sculpting, and later studying ceramics and raku firing. At Long Beach State University, he got into theater and art, and then songwriting, which led to gigs in bands, which led to a decade playing music on the road. It was while traveling through Spokane, Washington in 1977 that he got back into painting.
Still, even after a stint back at school, at New York’s Art Students League in 1985, two years later Harris put together a band and performed original music at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles. Then, in 1996, not long after completing a workshop at the Fechin Institute in Taos, he settled down, more or less, in Santa Fe.
“I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve lived, but Santa Fe and the Southwest landscape just kept pulling me back,” says the artist, who’s been showing at Hunter Kirkland Contemporary for 12 years. “It inspires me to paint in a bigger, less-busy format, with sky becoming as important as the land.”
A fan of plein air painting, for the immediacy it imposes and the fact that it gets him out there in nature where it’s all happening, Harris nevertheless imposes a kind of in-the-studio rigor onto his work. The squeegee being the most overt imposition of style over both what he sees (Realism) and what he perceives (Impressionism).
“I will go directly to nature and paint the scene from life,” explains Harris. “I develop the paintings with several techniques in which I begin an underpainting using large brushes and heavy impasto to render the colors and pictorial design. Then, with different sized squeegees, I go over the wet paint to ‘blur’ the forms.”
This “blur” gives his paintings their unique sense of fluidity and motion. As do his vibrant colors—many of which are inspired by the Southwest’s singular combinations of light and color. “I like to create these paintings as a form of abstraction,” says Harris, “but if you step back, the landscape comes into sharper focus.”
Sharp enough as to be representational, yet not so sharp that they can’t also be abstract. Moving in and out of both genres equally well. Fluidly. Enticingly. And in a way that’s entirely his own. Read more about Harris’ work in the September 2016 issue of American Art Collector Magazine.