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Flexible lines play with geometry

Comprising more than 60 works in pen, rubbed pencil and/or acrylic paint on canvas and canvas paper, Lines in Time showcases Perth artist John Harris’ eye for the flexible line that humanises otherwise strict geometries and rhythms.

More remarkable, then, that many of them were done in the last year, during a challenging time in Harris’ life.

“I was diagnosed with brain cancer at the end of last January,” Harris says.

“It knocked out the part of the brain which controls speech and literacy. That’s coming back but a lot of this work was done in hospital.”

Not a naturally obsessive person, Harris could not stop drawing while in hospital.

“It washes over you and for me it’s been quite obsessional,” he says.

“I just love working with pen.”

He was also drawn — if you’ll pardon the pun — to the rhythms of abstraction. “It’s not representative work, I do follow some design, but it’s not meant to be too constrained,” he says.

“I particularly enjoy crosshatching and building up work over time.

“That’s why I called the show Lines in Time.”

Harris’ drawings are complex, delicate and textured. Despite their restrained use of colour, some recall the work of Paul Klee. They do not shout but they command your attention nonetheless.

Educated in Perth at Christ Church Grammar School and UWA, Harris has a BA in history and education.

In 1992, he established a successful graphic design studio, Harris Publishing, in Hong Kong.

Back in WA, Harris developed the educational software Edukite.

More recently, he taught at high school before taking up art full-time.

The most representational and therefore the least representative works in Harris’ show are those comprising the Idol Worship series. Little heads, in profile, rain down like primitive masks or nasty little emojis.

“I remember someone talking about cancer therapy and getting people to draw their cancers,” Harris says.

“So I came up with this evil little guy.”

Lines in Time also features three-dimensional works which started life as paintings but were then pierced or had shapes cut out of them before being folded into cylinders. They now resemble lampshades.

“The eye likes to see form,” Harris says. “But it also likes to see the hand of the artist.”

He points out one work, a series of rectangles following a matrix or logarithm.

“I didn’t bother finishing it,” he says. “What is a finished painting anyway?

Lines in Time is showing at Gallows Gallery, 53 Glyde Street, Mosman Park, until Friday. See gallowsgallery.com.

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