Whitehot Magazine

February 2008, Kenny Harris @ Gallery C

February 2008, Kenny Harris @ Gallery C
Kenny Harris, Yoga Studio, Buenos Aires 2007 60x90 inches oil on canvas

Kenny Harris
November 15 – January 5, 2008
Gallery C, Hermosa Beach

By Shana Nys Dambrot

The other day I was riding my bicycle around the side streets in Venice Beach near my own home and I saw Kenny Harris, who lives nearby, standing at an easel in the middle of a wide boulevard, painting the torso and crown of a steely emerald palm tree against the self-shrouding dusky sky. It reminded me of the first time I ever met him – he was on my building’s roof doing a plein air panorama of the surrounding neighborhood’s rooftops, empty lots, lanky trees and distant crushed, crusty mountains receding in layers. Over the years he has relentlessly developed his painting style, chasing the secrets of giants from Diebenkorn to Goya, Vermeer to Hopper, honing a sensual and literary technique.

His landscapes and interiors have a particular spirit of decaying romance, a plainspoken majesty identified with the poetic archetype of culturally and historically rich, economically poor Latin cities. A distant city skyline of solid, stucco buildings catches the sun like frosting, a maze of untrimmed palm trees form a jagged canopy, an empty yoga studio reflects in its glossy floor and partly open door various parts of the environment. But it is not enough for Harris to be drawn to such treasure troves of poetic vistas as Havana, Buenos Aires and Venice Beach, to perceive and celebrate the quiet prism of a room where every surface is a mirror, where the outside comes inside through reflection, interiors become atmospheric and landscapes come alive. The arresting power of Harris’ work is that his very painting technique itself becomes a metaphor for the poetic timbre of his subjects. His brushwork is by turns fierce and solid, elusive and aggressive, patient and rambunctious, managing to resolve into a near photographic representation of place when seen at any distance – and dissolving into frothy, impasto pigment up close. But that pigment has the earthy feeling of a body, a perceptible mass and rhythmic compositional dynamic that keeps the eye and mind in motion independent of the visual narrative happening on the picture plane.

Harris told me that Richard Diebenkorn used figurative under-painting as foundations for his breathtaking abstract landscapes, especially the Ocean Park series. I had always marveled at that great artist’s ability to convey specifics of time and place with so few signifiers, information seemed infused rather than included in his canvases, and what Harris told me about it makes sense. It occurs to me that Harris maybe has this working in reverse – that his scenic works are built on foundations of lyrical geometric abstraction.

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Shana Nys Dambrot

Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.

She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.


Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff


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