‘I was born in Akaroa and grew up on Banks Peninsula. My parents have a farm there... I grew up in a fairly isolated environment... I was quite alone - and I started to paint.’
¯Dunedin-based Jeffrey Harris is a self-taught artist, and icon in the New Zealand art world. Harris has been painting full time since 1970, and was mentored by the likes of Colin McCahon and Michael Smither.
Religious iconography is common in Harris' work, inspired by artists such as Francis Bacon, which are contrasted against more prosaic scenes of domesticity. His distinctive style includes bold colours and hard, gestural lines that evoke elements of German Expressionism, and commonly feature human figures with resemblances to early Renaissance imagery.
While his art may recall certain styles and eras, Harris' works cannot be easily categorised. Described by Justin Paton as "NZ art's definitive explorer of emotional thresholds" Harris visualises worlds which straddle dichotomies - combining the autobiographical with the allegorical, history with fable. His works are at once primitive and contemporary, personal and universal, discordant and harmonious, and feature a vast cast of characters, signs and symbols, which, while not without inherent associations, resist straightforward interpretation or meaning.
Harris’ work is held in the permanent collections of all the major institutions in New Zealand including significant holdings in Te Papa Tongrewa and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki. An exhibition of Harris' work is scheduled to open at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu in October 2022.
Quotation from Art New Zealand 'A Conversation with Jeffrey Harris' Issue No.18 Summer 1981