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Robin Harris's Influence

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Introduction: Robin Harris

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Kathie Jenkins

EICH Gallery

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I have been a collector of Robin Harris's work ever since I used to cut out his work from copies of my generous friends' colour magazines. I was not much more than 12 years old, I wanted to be an artist, I loved the work of the early Italian Artists, Giotto, Mantegna, and Masolino at the same time I was discovering Goya, Grosz, the Surrealists and a host of others. But one day I was struck by one unnerving thought, that all the artists I felt communicated with me, made me respond emotionally first then inspired me to decode and think beyond my first responses, were all dead.

The work of Robin Harris came at me with the same force as my much loved but long dead grand masters. His work was like nothing around at that time; it was daring, uncompromising, evocative and loaded with narrative, speaking out boldly and honestly.

The 30 images concerning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are amongst the most interesting and powerful narrative works that Robin has produced. I think that they are as influential as anything to have emerged from any artist working from Europe for decades. These images possess both emotional and social insight, emerging from a creative artist's understanding of the aspirations of the 30 declarations.

To read these declarations is a striking and uplifting experience, to visualise them is to risk falling short of the powerful sentiments and ideals they contain. Robin's work only increases the potency of these declarations.

Robin is unafraid to interrogate each of the declarations to examine what they might symbolise or mean to us as a collective. His images have a sense of history and human identity so that we are easily able to empathise with the figures he has created.

In this work Robin shows us his ingenuity as a draughtsman, staging his ideas in ever more convincing and challenging ways; inviting the spectator into the composition and making him or her a part of his work. In a climate in which so much art sets out to exclude and distance the viewer, Robin's insistence on inclusiveness, on trying to communicate with the viewer, is refreshing.

He brings us closer to the work through compositions loaded with references whose primary purposes are connection and involvement and this provides more than an aesthetic challenge; it requires us to question, explore, think and feel.

Robin uses a variety of approaches at times subtle and at other times complex and multi-layered, both in compositional content and meaning.

This project is as much a personalised archaeology of his beliefs as anything else. A synthesis of what he understands about the declarations, and what he has learnt about himself and his art. He creates compositions that are breathtaking, daring, but also reflect his understanding of what it is to be human and what he values in our shared vulnerability.

This is where its content, where its humanity lies. One is reminded of Peter Selz who, as an art historian and curator has always been himself committed to an art of content; one that displays, as he says, 'the conflicts of our era and affords insights into the tragic aspects of the human condition in a century characterised by social disturbance and personal anguish' (Beyond the Mainstream, 1998).

This is the domain in which the work of Robin Harris resides and this collection exemplifies its very best qualities for all to see.

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Mario Minichiello

Artist and Head of the Visual Communications Department
at Loughborough University
School of Art and Design

January 2000