Matthew Angelo Harrison: Invisible Silhouettes
August 18-September 16, 2023
Jessica Silverman is thrilled to announce Matthew Angelo Harrison’s long-awaited “Invisible Silhouettes,” a solo show of ten distinct sculptures. Demonstrating a significant evolution in the artist’s resin-encapsulations, these new works take the series on a gleaming, curvaceous trajectory, exploring human emotion and invisibility as a concept, perception and material state.
In the eighteenth century, the economist Adam Smith coined the expression “the invisible hand” to describe the dynamics of free-market economics. Harrison extends the metaphor by applying it not only to contemporary image-led reality and global political movements, but his own creative practice.
Where many artists outsource the fabrication of sculptures in industrial materials, Harrison insists on mastering CNC routers and other complex technologies, slowing down the process and managing the machines himself without even the help of assistants. Ironically, Harrison’s hands-on approach results in sculptures where evidence of a human hand is not explicit. However, the profound sense of touch recorded in Harrison’s forms is discernible as a feeling. Our bodies know what our eyes cannot see.
For the works in this show, Harrison uses clear resins instead of the tinted hues of his earlier “Dark Silhouettes.” See-through translucence is adjacent to invisibility. While carving and polishing the resin blocks, the artist imagined invisibility as a universe where the ends of straight lines meet again (what mathematicians call “circlines”) and hard edges mutate into receding horizons.
In Precious Belly, a Makonde pregnancy mask used in rites of passage as a fertility charm and protective shield is encapsulated in transparent resin. The shape of the wooden mask is then echoed in an umbilically attached “second belly” whose lens-like surface reflects the room and the viewer. Exhibiting the beauty of chance is an air bubble near the mask’s breast, which Harrison sees as expressive of the unseen energies that impact our life stories. Like every work in the show, Precious Belly is rich in cultural associations, connoting love, sex, nourishment, ancient evolution and advances in biotechnology.
In a very different work titled Beloved Worker, Harrison captures an Exxon hard hat given to him by an ex-employee of the oil company in a clear resin block into which he carves the outline of a Dan-tribe facemask from the collection of the Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. While the African mask and the American helmet may initially seem continents apart, Harrison views them as kindred spirits; they are both talismans of defense and fortifications that safeguard human tenderness. In a moment of social deracination and political deglobalization, Harrison creates sculptures that collapse time and space in order to create a convergence of the physical and the spiritual.
Father in Time is the first work in which Harrison has used concave ellipses, reminiscent of the eyeglass lenses and crystal tumblers made for serving alcoholic liquids. The eight smooth scalloped shapes were made possible by new explorations by the artist in machining. Harrison is interested in “opti-mechanics” wherein resin, which is more transparent than glass, can be made to magnify, compress, and duplicate an internal object. The resulting spatial distortion creates a situation where the figure looks both closer and farther away. It creates tension between the senses of sight and touch. Tactile desire is both invited and thwarted.
Harrison was keen to create a resin mask for the wooden mask, protecting them both in turn with a magic shield. While African sculpture often serves protective purposes, Harrison experiments with the aesthetics of defense and offense. He carves a resin face with penetrating, phallic, bullet-like eyes. He reclaims the material for the shield from an older generation of sculptures. The old work is repurposed to safeguard the new work. It sews together two styles, the new elevated polishes with his earlier, rougher aesthetics. With the shield, the artist reveals his process through a saw mark on one side and the soft watery milling lines on the other.
Matthew Angelo Harrison (b. 1989, Detroit, MI) completed his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012. He has been awarded grants and fellowships by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; United States Artists, and Kresge Arts. He has enjoyed solo shows at Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland; SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA; Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, MI; Atlanta Contemporary; and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. His work is in many permanent collections, including de Young Museum, San Francisco; Detroit Institute of Arts; Galeries Lafayette Foundation, Paris; ICA Miami; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Harrison lives and works in Detroit. He is represented by Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich & Vienna and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.