“By collaging numerous photographic images in a mosaic format, a painterly surface develops and expresses simultaneous macroscopic and microscopic views of the earth, a place, or a concept.”

—HARRY ERIKSEN

The shadows, elbows, statues, and pieces of gardens we glimpse on the surfaces of Eriksen’s collages are always from the travels and lives of others. The work situates the artist as a passive, lonely observer of strangers’ memories with the power to make new meaning from these fragments.

HARRY ERIKSEN   At Tinker’s Pond , 1992 (detail) photocollage 64 x 76 inches overall

HARRY ERIKSEN
At Tinker’s Pond, 1992 (detail)
photocollage
64 x 76 inches overall

Assistant+M+Suart+03.jpg

In the early 1980s, Eriksen became studio assistant to Michelle Stuart—perhaps the only mentorship which had a direct effect on the content of his own work. At the time, Stuart was primarily constructing grids of encaustic mixed with natural materials. This grid formation left a lasting impact on Eriksen’s compositions. So, too, did the structural formatting in the work of François Morellet, with whom Eriksen was personally close (and who was the father of his lifelong friend Florent). Morellet’s commitment to order, pattern, and geometry resonated strongly with Eriksen. In contrast, Eriksen’s work displays a vastly different sensibility in its dedication to a humble, measured poeticism.

During his time at Stuart’s studio, Eriksen began to use found photographs as the basis of his collages, cutting them by hand into precise squares and sorting them meticulously by color. He began to create large-scale, multi-part collages that when brought together formed composite patterns. Eriksen worked on his collages ceaselessly—during every free moment at work and into the night at home. This process of constructing these fantastically kaleidoscopic grids developed into a decades-long, active meditation.

Eriksen’s journal entries from the late 1980s reveal how critically his life could become unbalanced without his art. As a gay man living through the AIDS crisis, the extreme order of his work came to function as a bastion against the chaos of his historical context and as a tangible way to ground himself amidst a barrage of daily trauma.  In a stream of consciousness, Eriksen described the frantic, debauched energy of a community struggling to stay alive:

 

I have seen that when I am self-indulgent and uncaring that the ‘guardians’ (my expression) abandon and punish me until I see it and resume my duties. For example the period in time when niteclub + cocaine were my priorities and my home became filled with insects— fleas. It was a sign from them to me to realize my priorities and not indulge in the earthly pleasures as a thing of its own. The knowledge and insight claimed through those things are important, but to be totally involved with them is a lost soul.

 

Nature remained a recurrent signifier throughout Eriksen’s work, foregrounding Earth’s indomitable persistence in the face of human cruelty. In intentionally scattering and reorganizing his materials, he sought to construct new dynamics, perhaps in order to replace old, dysfunctional ones. From another entry: 

 

Combinations of simple geometric forms become metaphors [for] our myopic reality and allusions to the vastness of the solar system. What we are now familiar with will one day be either objects of curiosity or fragments of the old ways and the old gods. By taking our objects and beliefs and seeing them in this way, I begin to get a glimpse of a culture and a religion not yet in existence. 

 

Eriksen’s life’s work was the poetry of a compulsive person seeking order through passionately arranging new systems. Throughout his quiet career, he remained committed to the ecstatic future he envisioned—in which humans surrendered to the unwavering mystery of the natural world.