Kevin Harrison's newest series gets some breathing room

click to enlarge Painter, filmmaker, and graphic artist Kevin Harrison in front of his 16-foot-wide 'The Davidson Building' at Gallery229
  • Painter, filmmaker, and graphic artist Kevin Harrison in front of his 16-foot-wide 'The Davidson Building' at Gallery229

The French Noir Show
On view through December
229 Meeting Street

Ever played Six Degrees of Kevin Harrison? Take any Charlestonian, mighty or lowly, and chances are they'll be closely connected to the multitalented local artist. Whether it's through his shows, his films, or his marriage to Lowcountry Live producer Cathy O'Hara, the guy's linked with half the city.

I've been playing the game since Harrison's new show opened at Gallery229 on Meeting Street last week. The space is a second home for Eye Level Art, owned by Mike Elder. The two men met when Elder bought a house from Susan Avent, an artist familiar with Harrison's work. Susan also happened to be Harrison's next door neighbor.

It's been a year since Harrison opened a self-styled "comeback" show at the cozy Max Jerome home accessories store. The John Street location was so tight for exhibition space that one or two paintings had to be displayed outside on the sidewalk. This time around, Eye Level's three floors and sizeable walls give Harrison's art the breathing space it really needs — there's even room for "The Davidson Building," his 8-by-16-foot painting owned by architect Neil Stevenson (who was once interviewed by Harrison's cousin Andrew for his I Am On the Road project ... you get the idea).

Harrison prefers to go large when he's painting; he was a participant in Robert Lange's Big Works show in February. More modest pieces like "High Cotton" still take up some serious footage. His warped cityscape originals ("It's not a fish-eye effect," he insists, "that term's descriptive but not accurate") aren't suitable for a poky apartment or a Parisian-style restaurant. But Harrison's taken that into consideration.

"I can't afford a $5,000 painting," he says, sympathizing with micro-budgeted collectors. "So I'm offering some giclees of my work and I've created more of my retro film noir pieces." A longtime side series for Harrison, these poster-like images have turned up once every three years or so as gifts for friends. Gallery229's extra space — and the need to provide some new, simpler work for his latest show — gave him the excuse to develop fresh "French Noir" art.

These portraits combine Harrison's filmic, graphic, and fine art experience, inspired by figurines, magazine ads, photos, and '20s-era posters with cursive text. Familiar elements like Harrison's trademark glowing colors or an Angelina Jolie-inspired portrait are invigorated by some frisky wordplay. Through an improvisational process, the artist juggles different phrases to find something new — for example pericoloso ("perilous" in Italian) becomes "peri colosso."

There's enough room at 229 for other artists, too, including Clare Tomlinson. She shares Harrison's interest in graphic simplicity and outré color, but makes more straightforward references (Warhol, Lichtenstein) in her work. Chris Dotson is the most abstract of the group, using simple shapes to build subtle layers of color; he also tailor-made a couple of canvasses for you-know-who and helped to move, restretch, and rehang "The Davidson Building" as well.

In a town the size of Charleston, playing Six Degrees ain't much of a challenge. But Harrison's connections extend far beyond the Lowcountry. Next month he'll be flying to Nashville to meet Doc McGee, mighty head of McGee Entertainment, which manages bands like KISS and Hootie and the Blowfish. As Harrison's just been appointed creative director for events management company 262 Five Ltd., he's also getting excited about "a possible big event at this year's Super Bowl." At this rate he'll soon be able to afford one of his own paintings — and we'll be bragging that we knew him when.

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