Find Your Zen Inside Peter Harrington’s Mirage-Like Paintings
In his early 20s, Peter Harrington laid his backpack on the threshold of a Zen Buddhist temple. Someone opened the door, handed the young artist a broom, and said, “Now, Peter, when you sweep, only sweep!”
“It was the most enjoyable sweeping of the stairs,” says Peter, who would spend the next five years studying Buddhist meditation at Zen communities throughout New England. “The daily practice, the way of life, seemed to have an alchemical effect [on me], and this has somehow translated into a sense of making art,” he says. Now living high among the mesas of New Mexico, Peter paints the surrounding landscape with restrained simplicity and a dash of levity, characteristics that matured in tandem with his meditation.
Seeing the sweeping mesas and desert plants around him through unclouded eyes, Peter freely experiments with abstraction, comparing the outlines of barbed cacti to the airplanes that fly overhead. “Cactus silhouettes take on fanciful shapes and meanings in the New Mexico dusk,” he tells NOT REAL ART. “Walking up our red dirt road one evening, I could see airplane shapes suggested in the tangle of [cacti].” Like a desert mirage, cacti morph into airplanes, pine cones become pagodas, and stacks of moth wings transform into colorful totems. Peppered with symbolism and lighthearted humor, Peter’s work is equally indebted to the Chicago Imagists, a group of artists who took inspiration from comics and cheap advertisements during the 1960s. “I found my own way into unknown territory,” he says, stimulated by the Imagists’ bright colors and dark humor. “In the field of weeds and objects, a delightful ambiguity of abstraction and representation has emerged for me.”
In recent work “Dandelion,” Peter plays with the margins between abstraction and representation, seeing the broadleaf weed as two circular forms: “the terrestrial radius of leaves below and the umbel above.” Placed in front of a cloudless sky blue, the two shapes echo one another, creating symmetry, wholeness, and completion. “Dandelion,” like much of Peter’s work illustrates the “intersection of elements from primitive nature and human presence toward a philosophical whole.”
Stacked high into the atmosphere above, the totems in Peter’s work are beacons of joy, wonder, and curiosity, a direct reflection of his experience with meditation. Whether he’s building pagodas from pinecones or painting colorful prayer flags, Peter creates sacred spaces to contemplate the meeting point between humans and the primitive world. Imaginative and focused, his work seems to stem from a simple, modified command, delivered many years ago: Now, Peter, when you paint, only paint!
“Cactus silhouettes take on fanciful shapes and meanings in the New Mexico dusk.” — Peter Harrington
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
Want to be featured on NOT REAL ART? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.