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Harris, John

Entry updated 27 February 2023. Tagged: Artist.

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(1948-    ) UK artist who received his formal training at Luton College of Art and then at Exeter University, where he began painting astronomical subjects. Graduating thence in 1970 he went to London, where he painted a few book covers before becoming a librarian. After spending several years in India studying transcendental meditation, he returned to the UK and began painting full-time. His first major commission was to produce three paintings for Alien Landscapes (graph anth 1979) by Robert Holdstock and Malcolm Edwards. That book's publisher liked Harris's work enough to offer him a book contract for a collection of a series of paintings Harris had been doing depicting truly gigantic structures, a project Harris called Mass; the Victorian painter John Martin was widely seen as an influence on these works. Unfortunately, the publisher folded before the project could be completed. Ten of the paintings featured under the series title Orders of Magnitude in successive issues of Omni in 1980. The paintings have been the focus of several exhibitions, the first one-man show of them being in 1984, and very much later they, plus many others, were collected as a book called Mass: The Art of John Harris (graph 2000) with text by Ron Tiner.

Harris's initial preferred medium was shellac inks, but he eventually abandoned these as too brittle and too short-lived. For some years, as his Illustration career burgeoned, he worked in acrylics/airbrush, which he didn't much like. Currently he has reverted to oils on canvas.

Arguably the most painterly of all sf's illustrators, Harris has produced more paintings outside the field than in it. Some of these have been for personal projects, and include countless landscapes done in pastel colours with a very tender sensitivity; many of these landscapes have appeared on the covers of mainstream novels. In 1985, when visiting NASA's Kennedy Space Center he became the first UK artist to be invited to record a Shuttle launch in the form of a painting, which is now in the Smithsonian Collection. A number of Harris's personal projects were bought by the inventor Sir Clive Sinclair (1940-2021), both for Sinclair's own collection and for use on computer manuals and the like. A major personal project called Fire (The Rite of the Hidden Sun), a set of paintings and drawings far more extensive than the Mass series, remains unpublished. In 2015 he received the Chesley Award for lifetime artistic achievement. [JGr]

John Bruce Harris

born London: 29 July 1948


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