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John Harris

Represented by
ALISON ELDRED

Biography

John was born in London, July 29th 1948. He began painting at 14 and entered Luton College of Art at 16. After completing a foundation course, he entered the Fine Art course at Exeter in 1967 to study painting, and he graduated from there in 1970.

For six years he travelled and studied meditation.

In 1976 he began to produce paintings which expressed the preoccupations with scale and space that remain with him to the present day. His first exhibition was a shared show with the artist and architect Nicholas Gilbert Scott, held at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter University in 1977.

In the autumn of the same year, Young Artists, an artists' agency specialising in science fiction and fantasy art, began to represent him. Within a month, the publisher Philip Dunn offered him a commission to produce a group of three paintings which would illustrate the sci-fi classic trilogy, Cities in Flight. As a result of this, Philip Dunn commissioned a book of his work which was to be called Mass.

Dunn(Pierrot Publishing) went out of business before the book could be published but the idea did result in a visit to Sri Lanka in 1981 to meet Arthur C. Clarke, a seminal occasion for any sci-fi artist. It wasn't until 2000 that the book finally came out when Chrysalis Books produced an anthology of John's work which incorporated the work originally produced for Mass.

The 1980's were largely spent in producing work in the science fiction genre for the commercial sector, both for book covers and advertising. During this time much of his self-initiated work began to be collected by entrepreneurs and a major exhibition (the first one-man show) of the work done during this period, was held at Double Vision Galleries in Exeter.

In 1984/5 he visited the United States for the first time and visited NASA. They then invited him to witness a launch of the space shuttle and record the event in a painting, the first British artist to be honoured in this way. That work now hangs in the Kennedy Space Centre and is part of the Smithsonian Collection.

Over the last twenty years have he has broadened his work to include a whole range of styles and content, but he remains firmly embedded in what he calls "Imaginative Realism". At the beginning of his career, his style of painting most closely resembled that of John Martin, the English Victorian painter of immense canvases, usually depicting scenes of Biblical catastrophe, such as The Fall of Nineveh. One particular painting, The Last Man, produced in the artist, a powerful sense of recognition. Although it lacked the melodramatic content of the better known works, the haunting atmosphere and sense of space in the piece, was something with which he identified and is something which often recurs in the work. In terms of technique, the smoothness and fineness of detail in Martin's work (a typical characteristic of Victorian painting) was an aspect which John instinctively recognised as militating against the raw power of the content, and over the intervening years he has struggled to move away from it.
John HarrisAt the beginning of his career, he practiced an unusual technique which he had developed, involving the use of shellac inks, layed over body colour. Though this had some beneficial effects (texture, rich colour, fine detail), the fragility of the surface, the impermanence of the colour (some of these early pictures are likely to fade with time) and above all, the rigidity of the process, amounted to an unsatisfactory technique.

He eventually eventually abandoned this way of working and began to paint in acrylics, which he used for about ten or twelve years. It was a small liberation in terms of changing the image as he worked, but this medium also had its drawbacks. For some time he had avoided using the airbrush, disliking the mechanical smoothness but this meant working very quickly to avoid ragged transitions of colour. Eventually, around the middle of the 1990's he bowed to the inevitable and returned to the tried and tested techniques of oil painting on canvas, which he practices to this day. The immense plasticity of the material, the fluidity and controllable drying time all contribute to the essential process of finding and producing the right image.

This last point is, to him, at the heart of the art. He sees the process as moving between two poles. On the one hand it starts with a feeling, close to a ready-formed vision, and then on the other, pushing and pulling at the materials until they express what is wanted.

What eventually arises, may, or may not be exactly what was originally seen. But in this equation is the possibility that something unexpected may occur, which could be more magical than the artist might have imagined. And always, his guiding muse is the sense of scale, the atmosphere of being in an unknowable and unlimited space.

He continues to live and work in Devon, England. He is married and has two children.

In 2014 he selected some of his work to be published in a book, "The Art of John Harris: Beyond the Horizon" and he was also nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Artist.

In 2015 he won the Chesley Award for Life-time Artistic Achievement.