top of page

Pat Harris


Pat Harris, "Portrait of an art lover", oil on linen, 60x50 cm, 2020.

Q: How do you deal with the concept of time and space within your methodology as a visual

creative artist - and do you deal differently with time and space within the identity of the

images you create?

A: Time and space is a constant concern within my artistic practice. I have, over the years, worked with the human image: figure and portrait and more recently, with landscape and still-life. But throughout, and with various motifs, my main concern has been with time and space. When looking at a stack off the coast of North Mayo, Ireland, or a model that poses for me, what immediately comes to mind is the space and time they occupy. I have always been conscious of the fact that in order to paint something/someone one must paint the space they occupy. It is the space created by the object that defines its presence. As we paint, as we move paint around a surface, scraping back, re-painting, we build up a sense of time and space within the painting. Often, when we look closely at a painting, we can travel through time, from the last marks made on the surface, back through time to the traces of marks and layers that went before. It is as a figure on a podium, walking or dancing his way through space, leaving traces of movements past, movements that were needed to bring us to the final conclusion.

Q: Should a portrait be timeless,or totally specific to the time in which it is created (so that it is dated in the long run), and therefore just testify to the here and now?

A: The National Gallery in London houses two of my favourite paintings: a portrait of Margaretha De Geer by Rembrandt and The Entombment by Dirk Bouts. The Rembrandt is an oil painting, while the Bouts is one of the last surviving examples of a glue tempera painting. The Bouts is fragile, marked by age, in places transparent and beautifully delicate, its linen support now not only visible but also contributing to the painting’s overall presence. The Rembrandt is a painting of an old woman: Margaretha de Geer, she’s robust, hands like shovels, and very present; she may be 350 years old, but she knows she’ll outlive me and every spectator that visits her. I once cried while looking at her, realizing what could be done in paint, what presence could be created, and, more to the point, what I couldn’t do, but what I so much wanted to do. I visit these two friends whenever I can, and each time I do, I discover something new, something I hadn’t seen before. So to answer your question: yes, a portrait should be timeless, a good portrait, as a good painting, is by its nature, timeless.

Q: In which way is your working method visible or tangible in the energy of the work?

A: I work mainly in oil paint on linen. It is a process of doubt and change. I paint, scrape back, paint over and reflect. It seems the more I paint the less I know. Doubt and paint are my chief ingredients, and both contribute to the making of the work. The doubt creates a slowness, an uncertainty, the paint encapsulates time and space. The surface of the work carries the memory/the traces of layers and marks that went before and helped determine the final image. This process of paint and doubt is tangible in the final work and determines its presence.

Q: By making or seeing/experiencing, which portrait or what have you read that made you think differently about portrait art?

A: Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, Thames and Hudson 1975. Discovering this book while still a student of painting at the NCAD in Dublin was possibly the greatest thing that happened to me at that time. It gave me a huge insight into what painting was or could be. I remember how eloquently Francis Bacon spoke of portrait painting. First published in 1975, it is a remarkable book. He speaks of the impossibility of portrait painting, something I’m very much experiencing now. He references the late Rembrandts and Velázquez’s and even now, after 46 years, it’s still a remarkable read. Below are a couple of quotes that I had underlined during my first reading of this book.

“Behind all of that is Rembrandt’s profound sensibility, which was able to hold onto one irrational mark rather than onto another. And abstract expressionism has all been done in Rembrandt’s marks”

“You want accuracy, but not representation. If you know how to make the figuration, it doesn’t work. Anything you can make, you make by accident. In painting, you have to know what you do, not how, when you do it”.

“Some paint comes across directly onto the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain”.


Recent posts

bottom of page