Exhibition preview: Geoffrey Harrison, Barts Pathology Museum, London, August 16-29 2013
Four skulls are morphed into a cross, the white nodules of a brain become crossroads and the molten-red fingers of two hands weave around each other like ancient human tree branches.
© Geoffrey Harrison 2013
Geoffrey Harrison has made 25 paintings during a residency at Barts, inspired by the three-storey mezzanine of 300-year spanning anatomical, pathological and forensic specimens once used for teaching within the Victorian museum now hidden within a Smithfield hospital.
“My childhood was spent surrounded by medical imagery,” says the artist, who was born to medical illustrators.
“The paintings in this show make visual reference directly to the specimens in the museum, as well as to the nature of spontaneous unnatural growth, damage, division and conjoining.”
Harrison says mortality and flesh have provided “a strong current” in his work, partly informed, in a further reflection of his background, on isolated lands.
“These floating images resonate with a particular interest I have in islands,” he points out.
“I have spent all my life on one island or another.
“I am interested in the tendency towards singularity of identity that can be engendered in island communities and the opportunity there is for isolation, uncomplicated by problematic borders."
“Like all conceits, however, there is ultimately a contradiction: the shoreline of an island is not a clear margin.
“The tide ebbs and flows, the waves lap over the rocks and water seeps between the grains of sand. The difference between what is land and what is sea is impossible to distinguish."
Harrison’s responses to the “cabinet of curios”, held at the museum recently pronounced as the UK’s only entry in a CNN list of the World's Weirdest Medical Museums, are a curtain call to his time at Smithfields.
His “seductive” fascination, he feels, is with the beginnings and ends of coasts, people and environments.
“That is what I seek,” he adds, “even though I know they aren’t there.”
- Open 2pm-6pm. Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @bartspathology.