James C. Harrison: "Freeport Hospital Vision #4" (1972)

"Freeport Hospital Vision # 4", 1972. Mixed media on paper. Signed verso upper left. Image 38 1/4" x 42 3/4", framed 38 3/4 x 43 1/4" overall. $950

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"Freeport Hospital Vision # 4” is part of a series by James C. Harrison (1925-1990) chronicling the tempestuous nature of addiction and artistic resilience. Created after a cycle of hospitalizations, Harrison explores the archetypal dichotomy between light and dark by drawing the viewer into what seems to be a private battle of the ego and unconscious mind. Distinct lines frame a tenebrous image in tones of sepia, charcoal and yellow, anchored by a man lying on his back with a clear X quartering his body. Above him looms an obscured cloud, likened to an alcoholic haze, visionary both in context and to the viewer’s subjectivity. Four black circles surrounded by a dreamy incandescent light mark the page. In his 1989 essay “James Harrison: Stepping out of Darkness”, Gregory Galligan notes that a similar orb of light is first introduced in a 1963 watercolor “in the guise of its demonic antithesis … where the unfathomable black hole denotes a quasi-spiritual concept and the mundane fact of a dope addict on speed.” The image itself is somber and claustrophobic while still managing an ethereal impression. It lacks the crisp scribbling in his earlier drawing and collage style works that typically parallel Harrison to Cy Twombly, Robert Ruaschenberg and other artistic contemporaries in the 1980s New York School. Unabashed introspection and self-exploration are foundational themes in Harrison’s work. This led him into the worlds of Jungian psychoanalysis, astrology, sexuality, and religion. As Harrison transitioned through periods of acute alcoholism, drug addiction and recovery, his work remained intrinsic and rooted in spiritual concepts centered around individual consciousness. Galligan states that “[Harrison’s] work tells, in fact, of a thoroughly bedeviled figure, who has always put his art to the task of a feverish self-transcendence. The entire known history of art is replete with examples of painters who waved brushes, crayons, and pencils at their personal demons, determined to purge various toxins – both real and imagined – from their souls and thus aspire to a state of spiritual equilibrium.”