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Artist Barbara Harnack explores self in ‘Personal Mythology’ exhibit in Madrid

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Barbara Harnack is exhibiting ceramics, mixed media sculpture and paintings in her first solo show in New Mexico titled “Personal Mythology” at the Calliope Gallery in Madrid through Sept. 30.

“La Reina” by Barbara Harnack is one of many ceramic works included in her “Personal Mythology” solo show at the Calliope Gallery.

Though Harnack, originally from New York, has lived in the Land of Enchantment for many years, her work has only been included in area group exhibits until now. In the meantime, Harnack’s ceramics have traveled the globe with some of her pieces being included in the World Ceramics Exposition Foundation Collection in Korea and many other national and international institutions.

Her impressive presentation is, in part, the product of a collaboration between Harnack and her husband, artist and writer Michael Lancaster, the great-great-grandson of one of the Ringling brothers of circus fame.

“The House in the Chair” by Barbara Harnack reaches toward childhood fantasies about how the world could be if our inner children ran the show.

The couple have worked together since they met, much like the late San Ildefonso Pueblo potter Maria Martinez and her husband Julian Martinez. Maria created and polished her pottery before turning the pieces over to Julian, who painted the elegant designs on their surfaces with clay slip. Maria then baked them in a wood-fired reduction kiln.

“The Search for Nectar” by Barbara Harnack anthropomorphizes a butterfly made from chair parts.

In the case of Harnack and Lancaster, Harnack incises her designs into the leather-hard clay after Lancaster wheel-throws some vessels. Harnack also makes her own hand-formed figurative ceramic pieces, which she also incises, paints and glazes.

A wonderful example of her talent can be found in “La Reina” a signature three-dimensional ceramic work of a woman wearing a scarf. The image is the result of line drawing, rich earthen glazes and hand-worked clay that has stylistic tinges from Modigliani and Marc Chagall. Though many viewers would easily see Chagall in many of her images, Harnack says the only true connection between their work is that they are both inspired by Romanticism.

When Harnack does her assemblage sculpture she lays out the complete design with all elements in place. Lancaster then engineers the joinery and attachment points to build them into self-supporting structures.

In 2013, the duet published a children’s book chronicling the founding of the Ringling Bros. Circus titled “The Boys from Baraboo.” Harnack built the characters in painted clay, while Lancaster wrote the story and created photos.

Lancaster also authored a novel titled “The Last Laugh,” which tells the story of the rise and fall of the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

“Slow Dance” by Barbara Harnack uses bits of broken chairs to create a human figure with broken off arms like found in a classical Greek sculpture.

For me the most powerful works are by far Harnack’s assemblage and hand-built ceramic figures. Most of her new sculpture includes bits and pieces of chairs that become arms, legs or the sweep of a gesture. Vincent Van Gogh and Marcel Duchamp were both inspired by chairs. Van Gogh painted seated figures as well as empty chairs in a way that animated them. Duchamp, ever the intellectual prankster, stuck a front fork and bicycle wheel into a hole drilled in a four-legged stool as his first dadaist-inspired “Readymade.”

In “Slow Dance,” “The Search for Nectar” and “The House in the Chair,” Harnack breathes life into her chair scraps, adding magical mysteries that can only be solved by the viewer’s inner child who can easily accept a man’s head on a butterfly.

Children can connect and accept disparate objects, ideas, emotions and other oddities far better than adults, because their worldviews are still under construction. In Harnack’s art we are witnessing ‘paradigms lost’ as she attempts to deconstruct her outer adult to release her innocence.

It’s a wonder-filled show. Two thumbs up.

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