Modern artist

Pat Harris

The Power of Painting

Artist Type: Painter

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Contact: Patrick Harris at (505) 983-4160


Last year, I began to make paintings about a lake in northern Minnesota named Big ManTrap Lake.  The reason the lake is called ManTrap is because it’s easy to get lost on it until you know your way around.  It is quite beautiful with eagles, osprey, loons, otter, beaver, bear, deer, wild rice, lilypads and loads of fish.  The most incredible fish is the Muskellunge.  A ‘muskie’ is like a freshwater barracuda and can grow to six feet in length.  Sometimes, they lay in the shade under boat docks - which really scares little kids - other times, they lay in sunny, shallow water and you can see them sunning on the bottom of the lake.

After thirty years of visiting this lake, it finally occurred to me to make some paintings about it.

My earlier works are also political and address themes of pollution and environmental degradation.  One of them, “Mercury”, actually glows in the dark because it’s about mercury in fish.  Another is a landscape in the shape of a Guernsey cow, all its milk draining out on the ground.  That one is called “Mother’s Milk”.

Works by other artists have affected me deeply, convincing me that painting is a powerful and direct way to communicate the most profound aspects of our human character and being.

The Big ManTrap Lake series is an amalgam of three separate methods of painting: Haboku - the ‘splashed ink’ technique of zen painting developed in 11th century China; Powdercoat - a 20th century technique that renders a slick, opaque finish and finally; traditional brushwork - employing illusory, painterly effects.

The new paintings expand the scope of my work in an interesting way.  The older work focused on our path toward species extinction and emphasized this by placing multiple canvases in a sequential or cinematic arrangement.   The new work is about a path that leads away from extinction.  These paintings behave and interact with the viewer as a mandala would: representing symbols of the life force within this lake.  A grant from United States Artists in Los Angeles further enabled this series in 2011.      

In a recent study on the current rate of species extinction, Berkeley paleobiologist Anthony Barnowsky said, “The good news is, we still have most of what we want to save, we can fix it.”  However, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich states, “We could do something about it, but I don’t see that we have the slightest inclination to.”

Personally, I think that we do want to ‘fix this’ and these paintings posit that we interdict the current trend towards mass extinction and help to determine a path that leads away from it.