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Will Harris: From Java to Buffalo

May 14 - Aug 7 2011

UB Anderson Gallery

Will Harris: From Java to Buffalo features a series of watercolors and oils painted over the course of almost three decades that express the Western New York landscape from Java Lake, south of East Aurora, through rolling farmland back to Buffalo’s waterfront. Like most art students in the late 1950s, Harris explored the conceptual, non-objective style of Abstract Expressionism, which he infused with cubist compositional elements. After moving to Buffalo, New York in the mid-1960s, Harris created a series of hyper realistic paintings depicting coins and subway tokens. In the early 1980s, Harris found his unique style. Influenced by his experiences as a glider pilot and sailor, he allowed his earlier interest in cubism and expressionistic painting to resurface in his work. It led him to fracture the picture plane to produce a kaleidoscopic image in which he simultaneously presented aerial and straight-on views of his subject.

Many of these paintings depict the landscape as seen through window reflections that produce a sensation of fluctuating foregrounds and backgrounds where interior and exterior spaces combine. Painting on location, Harris was a keen observer of natural light and the changing seasons, particularly fall with its panoply of emerald greens, rust tones, and flaming reds that saturate his works on paper with exuberant color. Two of the last paintings Harris completed can be considered an autobiography of sorts as they depict his Buffalo studio in transparent watercolor and opaque acrylic. One shows an interior of his studio filled with his paintings, a dizzying circular staircase, and a beloved leather chair. Another presents a close up of windowpanes in which Harris, throughout the years, would have observed in quiet contemplation the shifting street scene below.

Harris was born in Bloomington, Indiana and received his BFA from the John Heron Art School in Indianapolis and his MFA from Tulane University. He began teaching at UB in 1965, chaired the Art Department during part of his tenure, and retired from the university in 1998. Harris’ work was exhibited at major local venues as well as in museums and galleries around the country during his lifetime and is included in many private and corporate collections.