“Tallymarks” Philip Harrell solo show
Big Medium, Bolm Location
I had no reason to follow a straight path through Philip Harrell’s first solo exhibition at Big Medium. I was initially thrown from piece to piece by contrasting and somewhat conflicting forms and shapes. I then had to go back to the first piece and start again and try to make sense of it in order. Each piece had its own integrity and compositional laws.
Harrell's chunks of paint were stacked and cut in ways I had not seen before, like a tactile map of a place that doesn’t really exist. Brushed and cut with god knows how or with what. There was palette knife work also, and the edges of the canvas jutted out at me, enclosing the space in unique ways. Some of the rectangular shapes in the composition looked like they were ¼” thick strips of beautifully colored tape cut and placed with integrity and intention. I love art that gives you no hints about how it was made and has its own sculpted life protruding from the canvas.
There were references to plasticity in the titles, and Hans Hoffman’s influence seemed instant to me. Rectangles of pure color referenced the total rectangle and created layers of subject matter that certainly pushed and pulled in and out and around the space. The works relate to a tradition and a search that all good abstract artists venture into. I don't know what is taught in art school these days, but I am glad UT is teaching whatever they are teaching and producing artists that create work this good. The many small (10x8”) works that in a larger format would perhaps feel overhung, worked here perfectly and gave the entire show a relatable and full life.
Austin has a seriously hard time retaining artists at this skill level but I hope we can see one or two shows more before Philip moves on. Who knows, perhaps Austin will grow to be a great place for artists to have full and lifelong careers. Weirder things have happened.