James C. Harrison was born November 27th, 1925 in Detroit and graduated from Cass Tech High School with a commercial art degree in 1943. Harrison went on to study briefly at Cranbrook Academy of Art and Olivet College before realizing that a traditional educational setting was not agreeable with him. Thus, he became largely a self-taught artist, and moved to New York City in 1950.
By the mid-1950s he had devised a style of portraiture that incorporated the seemingly random scribbles of surrealist automatist drawing. Drawing was largely the basis of Harrison’s art. He called his work “painting - drawing". In the 1970s and 1980s, James Harrison produced a remarkable body of densely worked, visionary paintings and drawings that have lately acquired cult following. Prolonged study of Harrison's work might reveal a coherent system of symbols and cosmic psychology underwriting Harrison's art.
What is more immediately compelling is the tension between recognizable mystical imagery and painterly obfuscation, which might be read as a metaphor for the artist's struggle to transcend his own psychic chaos. Participating in several group exhibitions, Harrison had his first one-man exhibition at A Place Apart Gallery in Brooklyn in 1983. In 1987 at the age of 58, the Ledisflam Gallery in SoHo, New York mounted a 40-year retrospective of his work.
For many years Harrison held his paintings as his own closely guarded secrets. He would often revisit his works adding to or further explaining his inspiration for each one. As his interests changed or his understanding deepened, Harrison would inscribe the backs of his works to reflect this evolution. These writings now shed light on Harrison’s complex personality as he critiqued his own art, days, weeks or even decades later. James C. Harrison was a protégé of Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg, a friend of James Baldwin, a follower of Carl Jung and was influenced by artists such a Jean Michel Basquiat, Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning.
Harrison died on November 10th, 1990.