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Various Small Fires

Alexander Harrison at Various Small Fires

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The small scale of Alexander Harrison’s paintings at Various Small Fires forces the viewer to get up close and personal. This range—at times, my nose was just inches from the work—feels pertinent, as Harrison’s paintings are each like a little cabinet of curiosity that build to create a robust narrative. 

The works have a surrealist, Magritte-style composition, many employing thick windows as framing devices, as if the viewer is on the inside, looking out on a lush landscape. In others, the windowsill acts as a frame for a flower, candle, or moon; framing becomes a conceptual tool, as if Harrison is slowly guiding our focus on each painted object. 

While many of the works feel hopeful, “Counting Sheep” takes a different turn. In this small piece, a Black man’s face, cropped close on his nose and eyes, peers out of the frame as if stuck in place, sweat pouring down the ridge of his nose. In “Why’d I Have to Go n’ Dream so Big?” Harrison paints bars into his window, blocking the pastoral landscape from access, and heightening the sense of entrapment. As the exhibition builds, Harrison’s landscapes become inextricable from themes of access, bringing in sharp criticisms of the American dream.

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Photo: Alexander Harrison, “Light of Mine,” 2021. Acrylic on panel, 36 x 30 x 2 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul.