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Birds in a Yellow Garden

Indar Pasricha Contemporary Arts is holding ‘Hidden Delights’, the first solo exhibition of paintings by the American contemporary artist, Conley Harris from 5th until 29th November. The exhibition will feature 30 works that have not been seen in the UK including oils and drawings, all which have been inspired by Harris’ knowledge and deep engagement with Indian and Persian miniatures, with prices starting at £1,500.

Although Harris has exhibited in solo exhibitions across the United States in New York City, Boston, Houston, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco; this exhibition is the first to be held in London. Other international shows have been held in Tokyo and Kyoto in Japan and Strasbourg in France.

Conley Harris was initially known for his landscapes. Those paintings have focused on his native New England landscape, and also the UK, Japan, France and Italy.

This collection of his recent work is inspired not only by the landscape and legends of India, but also landscape details utilized by royal court painters in their narrative manuscript paintings. In his painting pursuits, Harris has researched and then gathered favorite images (Rajput, Pahari and Mughal schools) as well as Persian Safavid as tools for reference from which he borrows details to invent new, contemporary paintings. He is inspired not so much by the narrative of the miniature, as by the brilliant jewel colours and degree of pictorial invention used in this traditional art form. As an artist, drawing has played a major role in Harris’s life. A dynamic use of the drawn line weaves in and out of the painting surface referencing landscape and figural details inspired by 17th and 18th century Indian and Persian miniatures and manuscript pages.

Works by Harris can be found in such public collections as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University Art Museums. Corporate collectors include CITI BANK, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Boston and Fidelity Investments. His work is also seen in many private collections internationally, including members of the Rockefeller family.

For Conley Harris, painting is a way of making mysterious worlds visible. A small canvas entitled “Radiant Afternoon” is suggestive of his approach. Here a bird, luminously yellow in colour, is located in a dense, tropical jungle-like setting, whose remoteness is emphasized by a ground colour of crimson, revealed here and there through the more thickly-painted blue sky and green plantain leaves, which turns the forest undergrowth into smouldering embers. Most enigmatic is a muscular hand entering the scene from the bottom edge. The foreshortened hand could be the artist’s own, reaching out to the canvas, but it is made strange by its blue colour, which recalls the dark Hindu god, Krishna. The yellow golden bird, seemingly awakened into alertness by its magic touch, mimics the shape of an upright paisley drawn next to it.

The juxtaposition generates a play between the two-dimensional surface of the canvas and the three-dimensional pictorial reality it engenders. At the same time, the strange, disembodied hand separates that fantastical imaginary world from the personal realities of the artist and his viewers. It is the distance between the two worlds that Harris approaches, with a sense of wonder.

He adopts specific motifs as well as narrative strategies, leading viewers to a reverie of exotic experiences. Surging rocks, tall coniferous trees, bright-coloured blossoms on vines, and intermingling of natural and human forms, are elements Harris appropriates from Persian miniature paintings, especially those of the Safavid courts. Women drawn in profile, an equestrian archer, elephants, and spiralling clouds derive from Indian art, including exquisite Rajput drawings from Rajasthan and the Punjab in the artist’s personal collection. In his drawings, Harris experiments with the sharpness and glow of Indian images, which are built in under layers of red and black line drawing and thin gouache, and then over drawn with chalk pastel and watercolour.

His watercolour “Ecstasy”, recalls Indian drawings with its birds hovering over a male nude, delicately outlined in black and seen through a shimmering layer of opaque white and warm colours. Harris derives narrative strategies from miniature paintings, which traditionally depicted stories of gods, kings and lovers as they were recorded by chroniclers and sung by bards within the courtly cultures of India and Iran. Painted in the format of a manuscript that was used originally for written texts, Harris’ pictorial surface is divided up into sections as if it were a written page, and various events are depicted with a distinct flair for manipulating the decorative surface of the page itself.

His watercolour drawing, “Sheltering Shadows in the Forest” develops a string of potential erotic analogies between these wrestlers on the right and an elephant trunk reaching out to embrace a flowering vine on the left; and between the figures, a spray of pink Safavid blossoms behind them, and cloud-like rocks pulling away from their heads, have echoes of Radha and Krishna’s tryst ‘borrowed’ from the Rajput miniature school.

Harris’s imagery is replete with similar erotic suggestions. “Deep in the Garden” shows men entwined on a carpet stretched out in a secluded forest. The heel-side view of their foreshortened, naked limbs gives viewers the covert pleasure of looking in from a secret spot, along with an elephant camouflaged in the shape of a line drawing hiding behind folds of paintwork. In the “Tent Wrestlers,” the red curtain, pulled away to the side, also makes viewers aware of the theatricality of indulgent looking.

Unlike miniature paintings, however, whose stories would have been known to their patrons, Harris’ paintings hold back their narrative. The imagery usually develops from puzzling over a certain stylistic peculiarity or an intriguing detail, as can be seen be in his “Birds in a Yellow Garden”, where an Islamic tile is the detail that Harris builds his work around, with Krishna’s blue being used on the central subject – an Indigo Bunting.

The eroticization of painting operates at several levels. Most literally, naked, male figures are an organizing motif of Harris’ paintings. These are neither taken from non-Western traditions nor derived from direct observation. His male nudes and athletic wrestlers recall Greco-Roman sculpture and nineteenth-century life studies. Painted in various colours, they offer up their bodies for our pleasure, while their faces are often obscured or shown in a foreshortened view.

Moreover, Harris stages a narrative tension of active and passive elements in a stylistic contrast between these Neo-classical nudes and references to Indian and Persian miniature paintings and drawings. Dreamy, secluded, men are offset by sparkling, Persian inspired landscapes, as in “Two Men Sitting in a Fantastical Landscape” or sharp profiles of wide-eyed women and beds of succulent lotus petals appropriated from Rajput paintings, as in “The Embrace.” Thus libidinous energy is assigned to borrowed pictorial conventions.

Conley Harris, commenting on this collection of work, said: “This body of work embodies a desire similar to collecting: a yearning to grasp the mystery of a lone page, shorn from the folio or album to which it originally belonged but never fully assimilated into the cultural realities of the modern owner. I remain fascinated by the strange presence of these remote images in our world and how they relate to us.”

Indar Pasricha, owner and curator of Indar Pasricha Contemporary Arts, said, “We are thrilled to be the first UK gallery to exhibit Conley’s work. Collectors will be drawn to the erotic flair seen in intimately observed lovers viewed through the conventions and narratives of the Indian and Persian miniature.”

Cate McQuaid, art critic to The Boston Globe commenting on recent work, said; “Conley Harris is a historian and a painter’s painter. His lush paintings pay tribute to the history of Indian paintings while using it to explore questions of composition, figure/ground relationship and other painterly issues. Harris draws large a detail from a paisley pattern beside a wandering poet, over a flowering shrub. That detail, floating on the painting’s surface, fiery and transparent, could be the poet’s muse”

For further information, images and a catalogue of the forthcoming Conley Harris exhibition, contact Indar Pasricha Contemporary Arts, 22 Connaught Street, W2

For further information:

Indar Pasricha
Indar Pasricha Contemporary Arts
22 Connaught Street
London W2 2AF Tel: +44(0)20 7724 9541
Fax: +44(0)20 7258 0493

Media Enquiries:

Russell Elliott
Cassleton Elliott & Co. Ltd.
Tel: 07808 403 963

Notes to Editors:

Conley Harris’ painting history is that of working in the realm of landscape. And like so many landscape painters, the need to experience and see a wide variety of sites has led him to study not only his native New England landscape, but also the UK, Japan, France, Italy and India.

The latter, India, has become the central focus of his studio painting and he travels there annually. Harris has been an avid collector of 17th and 18th century miniature paintings and individual pages from the Indian and Persian traditions. It is these Indian drawings from the Rajput, Pahari and Mughal Schools and Iranian Safavid works that Harris originally used as preparatory studies for his miniature paintings.


2009 In preparation for exhibition in September 2009) New works on Paper, a collaborative project with the Division of Indian, Islamic and Himalayan Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA

Solo Exhibitions:

2008 - Hidden Delights, Indar Pasricha Contemporary Art, London UK
2008 - Conley Harris, Paintings from 2004-2007, Art Museum, University of New Hampshire, Durham NH
2008 - Conley Harris, Paintings from 2004-2007, Downtown Art Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville TN
2008 - Lyric Tableaux, Twenty PaintingS, Danforth Art Musuem, Framingham MA
2007 - New Paintings and Drawings, Victoria Munroe Fine Art, BostonMA
2005 - New Paintings, Erlich Gallery, Marble Head MA
2004 - Paintings, Japanese Rock Gardens, Judith Dowling Asian Arts, Boston MA
2003 - Mughal Inspired Bird Paintings, Virginia Lynch Gallery, Tiverton RI
2002 - Nine Paintings, Silas-Kenyon Gallery, Provincetown, MA
2001 - Pursuing Beauty and Light, David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, New York, NY
2001 - The Landscape, Laura Erlich Gallery, Marblehead, MA
2001 - Celestial Skies, New Paintings, Silas-Kenyon Gallery, Provincetown, MA
2000 - An Intimate Witness, Bradford Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2000 - Elemental Sightings, David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, New York, NY
1998 - Japanese Rock & Water Gardens, Yukiko Lunday, Houston,TX
1997 - Mysterious Beauty, Landscape Paintings, Andrea Marquit Gallery, Boston MA
1995 - The Still Landscape, Paintings, Andrea Marquit Gallery, Boston MA
1993 - New Paintings and Watercolors, Barbara Singer Gallery, Cambridge MA
1992 - Landscapes: Monotypes with Drawing, Rugg Road Gallery, Bernard Toale, Boston MA
1990 - The Landscape, Greene Gallery, Harbor Gallery, Harbor Islands, Miami FL

Joint Shows:

2007 - Drawing Invitational , Silas-Kenyon Gallery, Schoolhouse Galleries, Provincetown MA
2005 - The Drawing Show, Silas-Kenyon Gallery, Schoolhouse Galleries, Provincetown MA
2003 - Hindu Deities, Haughton International Asian Art Fair, New York City, Theresa McCullough Ltd. London UK
2003 - Preview Paintings, (Hindu Tableaux Paintings) , Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston MA
1999 - The Asian Aesthetic/Interpretations, Bradford Gallery, San Francisco

Works by Conley Harris can be seen in the following collections:

Private Collections:

Stephen and Susan Paine Collection
David Rockefeller Jr.
Albert and Katheryn Merck
Allison and Edward Johnson IV

Museum Collections:

Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA
Harvard University Art Museums,
The Fogg, Cambridge MA
DeCordova Museum, Lincoln MA
Wichita Art Museum, Wichita Ks
Portland Museum of Art, Portland ME

Corporate Collections:

CitiBank, New York, NY
Fidelity Investments, Management and Research, Boston and worldwide
Prudential Life Insurance Company, New York City, NY
Met Life Insurance, New York City, NY
McGraw Hill Publishing, New York NY
The Boston Company, London, UK
Massachusetts Financial Services Company, Boston, MA
Federal Reserve Bank, Boston, MA
Federal Reserve Bank. Chicago, IL
John Hancock Insurance, International Division

Indar Pasricha Contemporary Arts

Indar Pasricha has been one of London's leading dealers of Indian and South Asian art since 1978. The gallery has launched Indar Pasricha Contemporary Arts, which will be concentrating on contemporary art from south Asia. A series of exhibitions will be held to show that artists from south Asia have something very valuable, apart from considerable talent, to offer: they have a voice.

The gallery will also be exhibiting European artists and artists from the Americas who deal with images and themes from South Asia.

The historic links with Great Britain which have allowed South Asians to settle in the United Kingdom have enabled artists from these communities to assimilate the cultural mores of their new country and this has given an energy and vitality to their work. The gallery looks forward to be able to show works by these exciting young artists.

Gallery opening hours:
Monday to Saturday 10.00am to 6.00pm

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