Unease Emanates from Alexander Harrison’s Painted Portals to an Uncanny World

“Land of Infinite Wonders” (2023), acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 inches. All images © Alexander Harrison, courtesy of Kasmin, New York, shared with permission

Through small paintings that often stretch less than a foot, artist Alexander Harrison coaxes scenes of both delicate natural beauty and profound unease. Once-fresh flowers wilt and fall, night descends around a decaying tree with a figure trapped inside, and malicious roots entangle a fleeting foot, puncturing the skin with thorns and cuts. Rendered in acrylic on panel with trompe le’oiel elements that add illusory depth to the tiny portals, the works are brimming with intrigue and mystery about what lies beyond the frame.

The pieces shown here were on view at Kasmin earlier this month in Harrison’s solo show Big World,  a title that alludes to the vast unreality from which he imagines his scenes emerging. Supernatural and uncanny, the works contain recognizable symbols that cite art historical and religious references, while the watermelon of “Down in the Mouth,” for example, draws on the long legacy of racist imagery.  “I see my paintings as another dimension, or a universe that feels like a fever dream as shown through my eyes,” Harrison told Kasmin Review. “I always like to have cosmic symbols in my work, like shooting stars and moons, because that creates distance and curiosity, but I also like to create intimacy by painting the roots under the ground.”

Often reflecting on his upbringing in South Carolina, the artist tends to situate Black men at the center of his pieces, considering the way racism proliferates both American history and life today. In addition to the paintings included in Big World, he also recently completed works featuring Black cowboys and their under-acknowledged legacies. Shown as part of a corrective exhibition at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, “Beyond the Horizon” similarly relies on caricature and emanates a sinister, foreboding feeling like that of the works shown here.

To view more of the artist’s paintings, visit Kasmin’s site and Instagram.


A painting of a decaying tree wiht an owl perched on a branch and a man's face peering out from the trunk

“Down by The Old Oak” (2023), acrylic on panel, 7 x 5 inches

A painting of a wooden frame around a man's eyes peering through the frame with a slice of watermelon obscuring his full face

“Down in the Mouth” (2023), acrylic on panel, 8 x 10 inches

A painting of an acorn sitting in a thick wood frame with a tiny sunrise visible through the small window

“Hollow Acorn” (2023), acrylic on panel, 4 x 4 inches

A detail photo of a painting of a wooden frame with an acorn and sunrise at the center

Detail of “Hollow Acorn” (2023), acrylic on panel, 4 x 4 inches

A photo of a painting of a wooden frame encircling wilting flowers and a blue nighttime landscape

“Boo-Hoo Flowers” (2023), acrylic on panel, 6 x 6 inches

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Author: Grace Ebert

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