ELIZABETH HARRIS
Wire and Grit
by David Raymond

Director of McCoy Gallery and Professor of Fine Arts Merrimack College

Elizabeth Harris' encaustic panels are sites of engagement between trails of moving points (lines) with layered surfaces (planes). The layers of beeswax form a geology of milky surfaces and depths that receive and secure her drawing marks and incisions. Line does not simply rest on surface: it changes the character of surface by removing its anonymity. It might be said that as the artist draws or scribbles across and into the wax, she imparts a code of signals that, although like writing, lack the expected transparency of language. 

If Harris is painting language, it is a language best experienced as something non-verbal and non-aural. It is a language of charged points that move and leave trails, that loop and swirl in ways that suggest miniature dancers whose actions leave expanding residues of their presence- residues that achieve the status of lingering history. In this sense the panels are both stage and page-like, full of textual gesture. The gestures of the marking hand are flashpoints and releases of self experience, like neural signals that drag interior vitality to public presence.

Making art is giving visibility. Harris' art does not repeat in any exact way the visible world we already know. It recalls that world- her scrawled marks certainly resemble writing and sometimes include small diagrams of "things" along with scratched-out writing and numbering. Legibility almost sets in. Intention paired with obliteration offers contrasting impulses. Large, curling forms become chains that twist and screech- an expressive syntax formed of wire and grit tornadoes. Some marks hurry-up through space, others pause and dissolve down into the wax. Space is worked with energy, doubt, and assertion. Marks are committed and committed to. This is painting as risk-taking and as improvisation, the quality of a conversation that only dares honesty. 

That the paintings are monochromatic- whites, grays and blacks occasionally tinged with bits of amber- gives drawing a dominant role. It is what we attend to as we "read" the imagery. But the wax layers themselves very slowly receive our own presence as we view them. They invite us under their surfaces much the way a lake draws the eye into its depths. There are no passive spaces. In this sense Harris may be engaged in an ambitious project of proclaiming the worth of the fully realized object. Since these objects are so insistently quirky, we may at first see them as the products of antic behavior. However that quirky appearance is quite central to their lack of pretense in favor of what can be called joyous provocation. 
 
 
 
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