Review: Roberta Harris

Eighteen new paintings by Houston artist Roberta Harris find inspiration in geometric forms in her recent show at Kirk Hopper Fine Art in Deep Ellum. Harris paints bold, doctor textured, edgy, and haphazard paintings. She leaves a trail of her work process — drips, splats, impasto elements, even dollops of paint — some of which are squeezed right out of the tube onto the canvas.

The best of them make you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a cool serendipity on an old panel or tarp that has collected drips and spills for years.

Harris’ work is characterized by juggernauts, stair steps, brick patterns, and applied color chips from the paint store. She’s interested in the numeral 8. She affixes surfaces that appear to be paper and tape to the canvas before she paints. She incises lines in the thick paint on others. There’s topography to her surfaces that is often unrelated to the paint she applies over it.

The series of smaller paintings you see as you first enter the gallery are a contrast between hard, rigid edges, disorderly painted lines, with impasto blobs in ovals hovering above. These paintings have titles like the names of heirloom flowers: “Old Rose,” “Cream Rose,” “Golden Rod,” “Berry Red” and “Antenna.” They could be Harris’ version of the table still life with a vase of flowers.

Alizarin crimson right from the tube is unmistakable, and Harris seems to like it as much as I do. Mixed with white, alizarin crimson makes that creamy, blue-pink and Harris contrasts it with a cool grey, white and bright and buzzing teal green.  My favorite piece in this series is “Golden Rod” — here Harris veers from her typical palette and paints warm tomato reds, black and gold punctuated with large thick ovals of chromium green.

“Golden Steps” is the best painting in the show. A large work, it contains a brick silo or vortex-like structure painted with wispy, spider web white and red lines on a cool neutral background.  The magic in this painting is a lovely delicate golden stairway descending into the depths of the silo.

Finally, “New City,” which could be a companion piece to “Golden Steps” finds skyscraper building elements lightly sketched in red, orange, and white paint over a silver-green ground that turns grey at the right edge.  There’s no perspective or horizon here, but the work reads cityscape all the same.