Saturday, May 9, 2009
Jan Harrison / Other Voice on Green
1. “Cat With Raw Nose” / 2006
beeswax, damar resin and encaustic
6.25 x 6 x 8 inches
Exhibited as a sculpture, and also presented by the artist as
a mask being in Animal Tongues performance.
2. “Tendril Birdfish” / 1997
bisque-fired porcelain sculpture
19 x 15.5 x 9.25 inches
Exhibited separately, or included in
Animal Tongues Installation.
3. “Corridor Series #1, Primate” / 2009
charcoal, pastel, and ink on rag paper
30.25 x 22.50 inches
Series of endangered animals in ecological and
JAN HARRISON — Animal Tongues and Vision
My work has been a lifelong journey. As a child I was
closely connected with animals, and developed a deep kinship
with them. Identifying with animals has helped me to have
empathy with the life force, and to express the complex
experience of what it is to be here as a flesh and blood being.
Since the earliest drawings in the 1980’s I have been engaged
in a developing interaction between the animal nature
and the human psyche. Entities interrelate, one being becoming
another being. Mysterious and intimate characters act
within an inner landscape, similar to dreams.
I work to experience the mystery, purity and sacred/profane
spirit of the animal nature, something we often overlook as
humans, as we live in a technology driven, industrialized
A myth which involves both knowledge and innocence,
darkness and light, has always been central to my work.
The myth is intuitively known in my body, and not based
on recorded mythology. Primitive animals are within us. The
eyes of animals invite us into their world.
Physicality is integral to my work's message and expression.
The use of pastels, wax, and clay enables me to caress the
surface with my hands. Beings emerge and evolve through
touching the surface of the paintings or working with the
wax or clay. Coming from the body's sensual/spiritual
desires, felt in the bones and cells, a metamorphosis
happens as I caress the surface.
The materials I use have always been important to the
content in my work. I recycle drawings, paintings, and
sculpture, working and reworking until they are the
way they need to be. I do not throw away materials.
I reuse and reuse materials. For instance, the beeswax
that was part of an earlier encaustic painting became a
wax sculpture. This is true of all of the materials I use,
including pastels on paper.
Recurring themes are both autobiographical and universal,
having to do with grief, joy, pain, sexuality, death, rebirth,
rejection, humor, brutality, sensitivity, anger, love, identity,
power and vulnerability. Sometimes the animals are self-portraits,
and sometimes they are the "Other." I identify with the
animals in my work, and feel as if their bodies are my own.
Since 1979, I have spoken and sung in Animal Tongues,
which I perform with the animal head sculptures. Animal
Tongues acts as a bridge to the world beneath the surface.
It expresses the emotions and the mystery of the animal
nature, and enables me to live and see clearly.
JAN HARRISON — Ecotheology and the Animal
Jan Harrison's paintings and sculptures involve empathy
with the animal nature as it relates to human existence
and the collective psyche. Her work is considered to
be an influence in the investigation of the animal/human
interface in art. Harrison’s subject matter relates to
ecotheology. Her painting is on the cover of ECOSPIRIT,
Religions and Philosophies for the Earth, edited by
Laurel Kearns and Catherine Keller, 2007, Fordham
Harrison’s art has been shown in over one hundred and
twenty solo and group exhibitions, including
Animal.Anima.Animus, which opened in Finland, and
traveled to Holland, Canada, and PS1 in New York.
Arcana Mundi, a monograph, was published by Station
Hill Press. A chapter on her work is included in the book,
In The Making: Creative Options for Contemporary
Art, Linda Weintraub, published by d.a.p., Distributed
Art Publishers, Inc., New York, NY.
Harrison was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, and
raised in the southern United States by a single mother.
Her childhood was spent primarily with animals, and
her early bestial companions became a spiritual source
of identity, as well as a guiding force in her life and work.
In 1989 she moved to Kingston, New York from Cincinnati,
Ohio, having lived in the Midwest for thirteen years
She has also lived in California and Georgia.
The recipient of five fellowships in art, her work is in
over one hundred private and museum collections, and she has
also produced two house-as-art projects. In addition to painting
and sculpture, she speaks and sings in a language, Animal
Tongues, which she performs.
To view the 2009 video performance of Jan Harrison
speaking/singing in Animal Tongues, with close-up views
of animal sculpture heads moving, click on:
For information on Jan Harrison, click on her web site
listed on this blog on the right, under "Other Voices on Green"
All 3 images and sounds © Jan Harrison 2009