REVIEW: David Harrison, Flowers of Evil, at Victoria Miro Gallery I,

In a world of sliding doors, we might not have this show by David Harrison. The veteran painter was once invited to front the Sex Pistols. He demurred, and for John Lydon and Co., the rest is history. It is difficult to see, from the floral and fragrant visions on show at Victoria Miro, quite what Malcolm McLaren was thinking of when he made his unlikely offer.

dh274_flowers-of-evil-foxglove-fairy-study_2015
David Harrison, Flowers of Evil, Foxglove Fairy Moonbathing, 2015 Oil on cardboard 93 x 51 cm 36 5/8 x 20 1/8 in

Harrison paints urban wildlife scenes that include cloying blooms, insect infestations, the occasional hare, the occasional skull and bleak views across the London skyline. He appears no fan of the City, or for that matter, much of the redevelopment taking place in the capital. For every iconic high rise, this painter offers instead full moons, disenchanted youths, or one or two full-breasted witches.

dh275_flowers-of-evil-parson-in-the-pulpit_2014
David Harrison, Flowers of Evil, Parson in the Pulpit, 2014 Oil on card 40 x 68 cm 15 3/4 x 26 3/4 in

The teeming undergrowth in most of Harrison’s Flowers of Evil series call to mind the artist Richard Dadd and indeed the entire show conjures with a Victorian belief in fairies. But saying that, many of the details here (such as French kissing skulls, or the male nude with plant sprouting from erection) would have had no place in the salons of the 19th century. Nor would Harrison’s forebears have been happy to paint on cardboard. At times he will strip away the paper surface to reveal the corrugated ‘roots’ below.
At times suffocating and a bit sickly, Flowers of Evil is nevertheless a well-considered and powerful body of work which offers a decadent alternative to the property boom which continues to change the face of London for the worst. 40 years on there’s a bit of Anarchy in the UK here in Shoreditch.

Flowers of Evil Until Friday 18th December 2015 Victoria Miro Gallery I 16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW
www.victoria-miro.com

Words Mark Sheerin

dh283_love-means-never-having-to-say-youre-ugly-the-kiss-part-2_2015
David Harrison, Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Ugly, The Kiss, 2015
Oil on cardboard 36.6 x 33.4 cm 14 3/8 x 13 1/8 in

About Mark Sheerin

Mark Sheerin writes on art for Hyperallergic, Culture24, Artdependence and the Arts Desk. His contemporary art blog can be found at criticismism.com