Art On Paper

Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 94
January, 2005

Joe Fyfe

Lyle Ashton Harris’s work is at once confessional and reticent, provocative and obscure. His 20-by-24 inch Polaroid self-portraits are emotive, sometimes violent, and his palette – a nourish one with occasional electric reds and blues – underscores this. The pictures, which seem to draw away from the viewer as if shielding themselves, document a process of continual self-exploration and self-nurture made manifest through historical, social, and experimental narratives.

“Memoirs of Hadrian,” for example, is a series of images inspired by Harris’s stay in Rome. He has depicted himself in these works as a bleeding young boxer. The image evokes a connection to the Roman emperor’s mourning over the suicide of his young male lover that is from the book of that title by Marguerite Yourcenar.

But the pictures also remain open to other interpretations. Anna Deveare Smith, in her excellent poem-like essay, states that “Lyle is self-possessed. / But the self is so diverse.” Smith opens up the work without explaining it and she does this with aplomb, locating Harris amid the mystery and caginess of his output.