Various Small Fires in LA is currently running the final week of Midnight Everywhere, Alexander Harrison’s West Coast debut, and a first solo exhibition at the gallery. And if it wasn’t already the unusual and intriguing small-scale of the works in this presentation, we’d be definitely fans of this exhibition cause of their dark yet enticing atmosphere and diligent use of the trompe l’oeil effect.

“I love the intimacy of a small piece. I want the viewer to feel even smaller,” Harrison told Juxtapoz about the reason behind creating a body of work that includes works as miniature as 4x4in. Such an approach certainly affects the experience of seeing these acrylics on panels, as they transform from mere squares on a wall into an often literal window into his narratives. And in order to fully utilize such effect, Greenville-born artist is frequently using a simple, yet potent trompe l’oeil technique. “I first give trompe l’oeil a shot for a group exhibition on windows and been hooked since,” the artist told us about his personal affection towards creating an optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three-dimensional space. “I tend to gravitate to use trompe l’oeil to convey, constraint, or isolationism and rarely voyeuristic points of view. I feel, there is so much to explore technique.” And indeed, in order to fully utilize its potential, the artist applies multiple layers of acrylic paint over a whittled-down panel, adding to the textural illusion of stone or wood surfaces. In such constrained format, he creates simple arrangements of recurring and evocative symbols such as a shooting star, a flower, an apple, the landscape, or the figure. 

The repetition and interaction of these allegorical images suggest the existence of interconnected stories. For example, the watermelon pits from Midnight Picnic, 2021, can be seen on the window looking at an apple three in The Moon, 2021. But then again, the bitten apple in A Story We’ve Been Told, 2021, connects to the apple slices in Portrait of an Artist in the Penumbra of the Moon, in Hopes for a Brighter Future, 2021, which is somewhat of an autobiographical hero, whose psychological portrayal continues in Counting Sheep, 2021, and If I Had one Wish…, 2021. Although, without a certain chronology or determined timestamp, these stories seem to exist beyond the depicted image itself and closer to the viewer’s imagination. Planted there by the artist, using the believable formatting of still lifes and the indicative darkness of vanitas, they construct an ethereal and timeless ambiance. And the artist admitted that such an appearance isn’t fully planned and is greatly influenced by his process that relies on subconscious sketching and drawing. “My paintings are almost a surprise to me when they’re done, which is both exciting and frustrating at times,” the artist told us. While working with easily recognizable imagery and simple compositions, Harrison has a great eye for adding a strong character or hints of history to all the elements, imbuing life into an otherwise frozen and peculiar moment in time. —Sasha Bogojev