Jamie Harris Essay

Jamie Harris Essay

Jamie Harris
Fall 2005 Fellow

Jamie Harris, a Fall 2005 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, will never be embarrassed by his glass, even when he is not present to explain it. The New Jersey native is based in New York City where he produces two distinctive types of glass: his personal work, which includes vessels and sculptural or painting-like wall-pieces, and his functional studio lines. Both grow out of the Modernist movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, with occasional nods to later decades. He relentlessly mines earlier high art by minimalist and abstractionist artists for his personal work, just as he appropriates the seductive curves of Modernist designers (originally craft workers) like Eva Zeisel for his more commercial lines. This rather intellectual reflection on the 20th century places Harris neatly in the Post Modern camp.

Harris, who began as a potter, believes that production is the best way to learn and practice good glass-blowing techniques. His functional wares, which are commissioned and purchased by firms such as Tiffany, resemble mid-20th century commercial ceramics, partly because of the intense colors which are translucent but reminiscent of Fiesta Ware. The shapes, too, suggest Fiesta Ware or the simplistic symmetries of Frankoma pottery. In Harris’ “Candy Stripe Series,” the use of thin encircling coils of hot applied glass seems to mime the incised lines on Fiesta Ware which themselves refer to the throwing ridges on wheel-thrown pottery. The gum-drop colors in this range are indeed utterly yummy.

Harris’ frequent comment in print and in public that color is important to him is hardly necessary. The really curious thing about his three-dimensional personal art works is that his inspiration is so often recognizable as abstract painting. On the other hand, the painters he admires—or at any rate recycles—are not the painterly ones like Pollock or de Kooning but the Post-Painterly generation. Like Barnett Newman (1905-1970), who most likely is a major inspiration. Harris also mentions Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Jim Dine as figures he admires.

Harris named one series “Zips,” a name Newman gave to the long colored stripe in many of his Minimalist paintings. Harris’ “Zips,” are like Newman’s in that they are inclusions of a section of different material or color in a field; however, the oval glass “Zips” are grouped on a wall. And Harris’ zip is an irregular organic incursion, making a distinctly non-minimalist statement. The rounded pieces are less colorful than either Harris’ own or Newman’s typical work. In addition, Newman was no fan of ovals. Some of Harris’ other works, like the fused glass “Color Field Wall Panels,” actually have a more Newman-esque look, though Ellsworth Kelly is the more obvious inspiration for these squared-off but organic works.

Perhaps Harris’ most successful series is the “Mod Series,” in which he’s carved out small holes in egg-shaped objects. They catch light inside and reveal strata of colored glass at their ground and polished margins. Harris claims that he forced himself to do coldworking in order to overcome his hatred of this process (a hatred shared by many glass makers). Today, though, he has come to enjoy coldworking and says that “half of what I do is coldworking.” His deft touch is evident in these opaque “Mod” objects with their satin M&M like surfaces, mounted in drifts on white panels. They are playful Post-Pop images, almost parodies of Op artist Larry Poons. “I’m trying to take the legacy of Pop and make it more expressionistic and emotive,” Harris says. An additional virtue of these pieces is their virtuosity. They are economically and elegantly constructed. Certainly, one need not be a student of the history of painting to find them fun to look at.

A recent wall panel containing an organic grid of embedded murrinis is layered and responsive to light. This piece does have a painterly quality of varied color density. Harris describes the effect as “pointillism” but relates the color to Rothko, a recent interest for him.

Harris is an interesting phenomenon in contemporary glass. Unlike many artists who use glass today, he does not make a point of saying “I use glass only when it suits the work I want to make.” He usually uses glass with no apologies; and when he uses another material such as rubber, he’s been known to praise it for its resemblance to glass. There’s a bit of image appropriator Sherrie Levine in Harris. For him glass is a medium of post-modern commentary. It’s almost like he’s saying: “Hey Kelly, You thought painting was IT; didn’t ya? Guess what? I did the same thing in glass. Nyaah Eva! You were hot stuff when you made this in white porcelain; The joke’s on you! I had more fun with it in colored glass.”