Sunday, May 12, 2013

Margaret Harrison - Captain America Continued

Margaret Harrison's latest show at the Payne Shurvell Gallery in London
As regular readers of my blog might know, I did an extensive research project a couple of years ago on the British artist Margaret Harrison, generally about her career, but specifically tracing the path of her series of Captain America paintings. Captain America is a character she has returned to several times in key points of her career between 1971 and now, and her interpretation of the character has evolved over that time.

Margaret Harrison. What's
That Long Red Limp Wrinkly
Thing You're Pulling On?
The painting reproduced on the gallery invite seems to build on the themes I’ve identified in Harrison's work previously, particularly What's That Long Red Limp Wrinkly Thing Your're Pulling On?, which was part of a series she began around 2009 that used paintings as "mirrors" to reflect or comment on the inner state of a character. In this recent work, Cap is looking in an actual mirror, but the image reflecting back at him is an ancient grotesque ala Leonardo or Caravaggio. Harrison has been an advocate of women's rights throughout her career, and it is my feeling is that this painting is a commentary on the weird way the US is dealing with women’s rights, equal pay and abortion. The US (Cap) is self-congratulatory and proud, yet its role as a superpower is shrinking (signified by the tiny cape), and the reflection shows the face of the "ugly American" (which is probably the way people in the other first world countries see us at the moment). The US is built on the labor, creativity and strength of its female citizens, yet their rights are still in dispute, and grandstanding politicians say ugly things about rape being a gift from God.

I'm looking forward to seeing a higher-res image so I can pick out the details. I can't quite make out the dancing figure in the leg. I recognize the Wonder Women: the armored Alex Ross version from Kingdom Come, the flying one in the upper right looks like a classic George Perez, and the one inside the figure looks like a well-known cover image from the Who is Wonder Woman? storyline by Terry & Racheal Dodson (series 3, #3).  The position of the "Dodson" WW inside Cap's transparent body seems to reference the invisible plane, and could refer to the strength of women building the US, and to the right to choose.

If you'd like a glimpse of my past research on Harrison, here's a slideshow (article pdf):

This is Harrison's second exhibition at Payne Shurvell, the first being I am a Fantasy (2011). She currently has work on show at Tate Liverpool, in Tracing the Century (drawings from the Tate Collection) and included in ‘Glam’ the Performance of Style also at Tate Liverpool and then touring to Germany and Austria. Her work will also be part of a group exhibition, Keep Your Timber Limber, opening at the ICA (London) this June. Related works are on show in the 2013 Northern Art Prize at the Leeds Art Gallery for which Margaret Harrison has been short-listed. The prize winner will be announced on 23 May.