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Elaine Harrison exhibit and book launched at Centre gallery

October 14, 2011

A retrospective exhibition, Elaine Harrison: I Am an Island That Dreams, featuring the paintings and poetry of Island artist Elaine Harrison (1915-2003), opens this month at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.

I Am an Island That Dreams is co-curated by Georges Arsenault and Kevin Rice and brings together upwards of 50 paintings from numerous private and public collections, as well as examples of Harrison's prints and poems. Harrison clearly valued creativity, as her poem "Sing Your Own Songs" attests: "Dare to create something of your own and be proud that you did it yourself..." While involved with the PEI Art Society in the 1950s, it was ultimately Harrison's 1968 retirement from an influential teaching career in Summerside, which allowed her the freedom to write more, and especially, to paint more.

She was inspired by the work of the Group of Seven and iconic artists such as Tom Thomson and Emily Carr-particularly their engagement with nature and innovative painting techniques. Harrison's painting style evolved significantly over many decades. In later years she rarely used brushes, preferring to apply paint with a pallet knife-which accounts for the broadness of her paint handling and economy of detail. In Harrison's most compelling work, you sense her deep experience of the landscape-the atmospheric effects of weather, light, or seasonal colour-entwined with her delight in painting.

Harrison's works are vigorous, direct, colourful, abstracted impressions of her favourite subjects: the red cliffs and shorelines near her summer home in Fernwood; the stands of hardwood trees near her home in Bedeque, PEI; Island harbours; and the cats she adored. Her still life subjects frequently featured flowers or objects found in her home, and from time to time the focus of her observations or attentions yielded a portrait or a self-portrait. Harrison's paintings were often layered thick with story over story-texture rising in a raking light to hint at intangible history and layers of poetic responses to place; to light on water, wind through trees. Gallery director, Kevin Rice notes, "Elaine Harrison made a unique contribution to the cultural life of this Island, where her perceptions, poems and dreams took form and flight."

The public is invited to attend the opening reception and book launch for Elaine Harrison: I Am An Island That Dreams at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, on Saturday, October 22 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. The book is co-published by Acorn Press and the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and includes more than forty colour reproductions of Harrison's paintings, several of her poems, and essays by Jane Ledwell, Kevin Rice, and Doug Sobey. The exhibition runs until January 29, 2012.

Image: Interior with Lamp and Cats, 2003, acrylic on canvas, 61.0 x 91.4 cm,
Collection of Betty Howatt