Saturday, August 14, 2010

The 'Fairsea' docks at Fremantle

Landfall, automotive enamel and oil on hardboard, 90 x 60 cm
(click on image to enlarge)

This painting is from a very small black and white photo taken of my family upon our arrival in Australia as émigrés from war-torn Europe. Our ship, the Fairsea (link here), had just docked briefly in Fremantle on its passage to Melbourne, our destination. But we got off the boat just so our feet could be on Australian soil and we could be sure the dream was real. 

I didn't know much about Australia other than that it had poisonous snakes and you could fry eggs on rocks in the desert sun. And that it had never known war. No more scrambling through the rubble of bombed-out buildings searching for few pfennig of scrap metal, for me.

To my right sit my mother and father. To my left, my brother. All are dead now.

I sit in my blue corduroy bib-trousers, my best and favourite piece of clothing. I could still wear them at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp (here and here) but at Glenroy Primary School i learnt that often one has to discard what one loves, and hide what one is, in order to fit in.

Thank you Ritaflo for your nostalgic portrait of me (link) in my beloved bib trousers, school satchel on my back.

I have made the figures small because i felt very small. I have located the group on a featureless black surround because I had arrived in Terra Incognita (link). I have, ever since, struggled to get my bearings.

This is still a self-portrait. But it also marks the beginning of some family portraits i have commenced based on family snaps (photos) from my formative years.

I want to paint the recollected family rather than the physical family, the echoes of emotion rather than naturalistic representation.

Stay tuned, gentle reader.


  1. Harry, I can just say that this painting touches my sensibility excessively.
    For me, I saw nothing more beautiful of all your paintings which are nevertheless brilliant! Thank you for being still there Harry...

  2. Merci beaucoup, Olivia, vous êtes très aimable. Thank you for your sensitivity and for entering into the spirit of this painting.

  3. This stops my heart.

    And I'm reminded of Bacon's work.

  4. Ola Harry Kent:
    Eu não tenho duvidas da qualidade deste trabalho, congratulações.
    A pintura esta sob uma "nevoa", uma fumaça, que envolve todos os personagens que compõe o quadro,é como se as figuras saissem de algum lugar do qual permaneceram por longos anos.
    Eu o parabenizo por ter a coragem de trazer a tona e sob a luz da conciência este momento que permaneceu sob a escuridão todos estes anos, enfim Harry , você pode compartilha-lo conosco, grato, a imagem é belissima.
    Bom final de semana

  5. This is my third pass by your blog post. It took me awhile to settle still. Powerful. Your words: "i learnt that often one has to discard what one loves, and hide what one is, in order to fit in" moved me. That you have yet to get your bearings hits down to the bone.
    Your family portrait is haunting. You are powerful and haunting. Beautiful.

  6. Thanks Hallie for being such a responsive person.

  7. Paulo, for you supportive comments are much appreciated. In Google-English they read
    "The painting is in a "fog", a smoke, which involves all the characters that make up the picture, it's as if they left the pictures from somewhere where they remained for many years. I congratulate you for having the courage to bring to bear in light of this awareness that time was under the dark all these years, finally Harry, you can share it with us, grateful, the picture is gorgeous."

    I like the idea of persons in photos from the distant past remaining nevertheless veiled in a mist until we create a space in which we can reflect on those past times and faces. Obrigado, meu amigo.

  8. PAMO, i am quite overwhelmed by the depth of your response, you lovely person.

    I am so appreciative of the feedback i have received today. It encourages me to believe that my work at times succeeds in communicating the private and personal, transmuting it into the public and universal.

    It's not that i wish to wear my heart on my sleeve for the sake of self-indulgence. Rather, i wish to say things with my art that are human and true. Not just true for me personally but received by others who come here, and recognised by them as a valid truth in their own lives also.

    Thank you so much, PAMO, and everyone else today.

  9. fascinating and touching work and words Harry. I'm already looking forward to seeing what you create in this 'family' theme with that heavy weight imagination you have;)

  10. I'm just finding you. You have very powerful work. I like this family portrait and your story which is also powerful. Nice to meet you. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. A powerful painting here, Harry and your story adds to the intensity. I want to see and hear more.

    I am reminded of the outcry after JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun was published to much acclaim. There were a number of readers who were critical of the author for his failure to write truthfully. Although Empire of the Sun is fictional, it too is based on the author's life experience. The Japanese interned Ballard along with his mother, father and brother in a prisoner of war camp. In the story Ballard writes about a young boy who was alone without family during his internment. In his defense, Ballard argued that he had wanted to demonstrate the emotional truth of the experience, which for him was one of feeling absolutely alone, despite the presence of his parents and brother.

    Wonderful work here, Harry. Emotionally charged and gut wrenching.

  12. Hi, Harry. Me expreso mejor en español. Realmente sabes cómo provocar sentimientos. La obra y los comentarios me han emocionado, y no es exageración. Pones casi literalmente tu vida sentimental en tus obras, con lo que estas adquieren un valor y un significado muy profundo. Espero más de esta colección familiar.
    Un saludo.

  13. Hi, Harry. He de reconocer que sabes cómo provocar emociones. Tu obra y tus comentarios casi me han transportado a la época que evocas. Con unas pocas líneas me has transportado en el tiempo, y, aunque no he vivido experiencias similares, por un momento he sido un poco Harry. Fascinante esta obra. Tienes el don para sorprender y ser original.
    Un saludo.

  14. Thanks, rahina. It's not progressing easily. Just scraped my father off a canvas, lol. The scale was wrong. So starting again today on a smaller support.

    Welcome, Susan, nice to meet you too. It was great seeing your work and lovely that you have come by here.

  15. hi Elizabeth. Thanks for the Ballard story. It sure opens a can of worms.

    Interesting question, truth in art versus truth in history - is there a difference? Was Ballard writing history or fiction? In these post-modern times can we tell the difference? Is everything just 'stories'?

    As a visual artist i don't feel as constrained by a sense of 'implicit contract with audience' as i do when i write. As an expressive painter i view painting first and foremost as an emotional communication. My writing, however, aims to have an informational function among other things.

    Which raises the question about the relationship of a painting to an accompanying statement.

    I used to believe a painting should be a complete work in its own right, should stand on its own two feet without explanations or apologies.

    I still essentially believe that although now i also see that any work of art is interpreted in its context.

    Hang my painting in Canberra's National Portrait Gallery and it acquires an aura of presumptive merit quite absent if discovered on a public toilet floor. My writing about a painting is an attempt to set a context.

    I write to help the viewer to know what to look for. But to my mind, for a painting to succeed, the emotional truth it carries should already be contained in a sensitive engagement with the image alone.

    The feral part of me believes the visual arts to be the Wild West of art practice - anything goes. I think Duchamp said something like "Art is whatever you can get away with" (if he didn't, he should have). I sure don't feel constrained by any notion of what 'legitimate' painting processes are supposed to be.

    But at my age my purpose is philosophical and serious, not provocative and mendacious. Truth in painting (ie, emotional honesty) is paramount to me as i review my life, relations and character. And it is authenticity that enables viewers to discover something of relevance to themselves in my work, rather than a perceiving it as a mere solipsistic indulgence.

  16. Gracias, Manel. Mi objetivo como un pintor expresivo es comunicar la emoción, i así que busca tus observaciones muy alentadores.

  17. A truly beautiful painting Harry depicting a really emotional part of your life.

  18. Harry,
    this is so beautiful!
    overflowing feeling, emotion and gratitude.
    is aesthetically perfect!
    has the right weight and the right colors.

    I salute you my friend!

  19. Harry,

    Powerful. Chilling.

    The story behind this work makes it much more so. Well done! I can't look away.

    Enjoy your week,

  20. I see so much art that is decorative (and I guess I would characterize most of my work as somewhat decorative)--when I come across something like this I can't help but say to myself --THIS-IS-ART. This painting mesmerizes me with it's gripping darkness and smallness. There is fear there but I also feel love there too. Absolutely one of the best things I have ever ever seen in a blog on the internet. Thanks for sharing this along with your thoughts. It's totally brilliant.

  21. Hello Harry
    What a sensitive painting, with a special story.
    I see you make interesting self portraits. Your profile photo is gorgeous!
    Kind regards from the other side of the world:-)

  22. Everyone has spoken my mind on your piece, it's beauty and emotion are striking.

    I want to share more on the mylar. My classmate, Chelsea, has used mylar. She has used oil sticks drawing rather than brushes and blended with her fingers. She also used it when doing a drawing with oil pastels that used Alison Lambert's process. Chelea has her blog at

  23. Harry you are an extremely talented man. I'm delghted you visited my blog, because I get to look at your work my friend and I'm completely knocked out!

  24. Hi Liz, thanks for the comment.

    Denise, so pleased you find this painting works both aesthetically and emotionally, meu amigo.

    Brian, i rather like the idea of of any work of mine giving others goose-bumps. Now i know what to aim for. Good to see your show working out so well.

  25. Celeste, I am delighted this work has touched you, for one of the key aims of my art practice is to transmute the private and personal into the public and universal.

    i give credit to the many artists whose work is mostly concerned with picturesque representation of nature, or realism in still-life, or photo-likeness in portraiture; artists who concern themselves mainly with colour and composition for decorative effect. I admire the skill and dedication that takes. And often their purpose is to market their work, which automatically places restrictions on the genres in which they can work.

    But in my own practice i am striving for serious psychological, social and philosophical purpose. I believe i have something valid to say about the human condition. My expressive explorations may not always work aesthetically or technically, which matters, but takes a second place the seriousness of my intent. The consequence is that i am currently producing work that will never sell.

    And so i am very much encouraged when a fine painter like yourself sees subject matter that is moving and competence of execution in any of my work. Thank you so much for your interest in my explorations here.

  26. hi Annie. Thanks for your response to this painting and its back-story. As for the profile pic, i keep changing it but invariably come back to the crazy grumpy artist, lol.

  27. Thanks for the info re Mylar, Elizabeth. I am now a Chelea follower - i like her intense and free work. I'll keep checking by your blog to see what you come up with using the Lambert technique. Cheers.

  28. hi Steppenwolf, your most welcome. Glad you found something here that speaks to you.

  29. Just discovered your blog. Fascinating works!

  30. thank you, design traveller. I'm pleased you found your way here. I find your own site is most fascinating too.

  31. hi Harry ,your paintings do not need any explanation !! They have life and death .
    As any good painting , in my opinion.

    It's nice , any way to read what U write , to know U better.
    not worries I will stay tuned (:
    even if it's not reciprocal (:

    A big hug

    p.s. I like the previous painting too.

  32. Thank you visiting and leaving for you vote of confidence in my painting, Marialuisa.

    I am sorry i haven't been by your blog recently. I am afraid others will be thinking the same thing too. But i have been so busy getting a presentation ready for the coming Wednesday when i have show my work to the postgraduate students and staff at the Art Academy for critique (very nerve-racking).

    On top of that, my painting "When your inside's out" has been selected as a finalist in an art prize competition and will be hung in the exhibition next week, so i have been madly gluing wobbly bits of wood into place and varnishing to get rid of flat spots on the paint. Phew.

    I have added your blog to the "Blogs I like to visit" (which i do) column on the right so i can keep a better eye on what you are painting and better keep in touch.


  33. You see Harry,I would not like to waste a word too much on something like this cause it is speaking for it self,deep under my skin I can feel it! Wonderful!
    You are extraordinary man Harry and Im really enjoying our bloggy friendship! You are as much inspirational as informative and I like that in people.
    I wish I could be that brave as you!Take care of yourself! Warm hugs and greetings,

  34. U R "decisamente" a nice person !
    I wish I had known people like U when I lived in Australia , I would be there now...
    But I was in Queens....
    I don't stay a lot at p.c., so I do understand U.
    I am not surprised a painting of Yours has been selected as finalist .
    I think U should enter the Archibald prize, your portraits and self portraits are impressive.
    a big colorful hug

    ps I: not bad your Italian eh!eh! (:
    ps II: I didn't find your e-mail in your blog

  35. Oh this is such a tender painting! I can't keep my eyes of it. So very emotional and your words with it make it even more heartfelt.
    The same intens mystery i sense in the work of Bacon.
    Very, very good work, that moves me deeply.

  36. Aleks, you are always so positive and encouraging. Your bloggy friendship means a great deal to me. Thank you. Sorry i haven't responded earlier but life has been a bit out of control lately and the coming two weeks look even worse. Thanks for being there. Hugs.

  37. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Marialuisa. I've thought about what you said and have penciled in the 2013 Archibald for an entry, :).

  38. Momo, you are so sensitive and caring. Thank you. Hope the holiday away has been all you had hoped. Lovely to see you back.

  39. Very powerful Harry, your co creative. I love the image very dreamlike.