Slang is the shortcut through language. The smooth formality of language ‘proper’ is swapped for something more unpredictable and unrefined. Perhaps more alive. Tough flourishes of meaning and understanding offer Newell Harry a rich vocabulary, good material with which to work. He deals in the tactility of language and the dirty poetics of elemental things in as much as these things already have a magical quality.
In Harry’s exhibition, Views from the couch, kitchen talk is mixed with the strange materiality of foreign words and place names encountered on the artist’s extensive travels (e.g. from Bislama, the national pidgin dialect of the South Pacific country of Vanuatu) and from his various family connections (e.g. from Afrikaans, the majority language of parts of South Africa and his mother’s mother tongue). He also uses the figurative forms of language—metaphor, assonance, homonym, alliteration—for the shamanic power that habitually resides there as well as in the transposition and metamorphosis of meaning invoked by anagrams.
Words are woven together with a variety of objects and textiles—an investment in impoverished material phenomena— as though they were substantially the same. Writing and spelling can be mistaken for abstract or decorative line and embellishment. Words are flags of subcultural identity—team colours—and have the first encounter aspect of colonial cultural cargo. A group of pandanus mats are tokens of ritual commodity exchange, involved in a discourse with the familiar soiled tools of manual labour (father’s work) and the unfamiliar accents of other artefacts to which speech has not yet become accustomed.
In 2006, Newell Harry was included in the group exhibition, Our Lucky Country (difference), a MOP Project (curated by Ron and George Adams), at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre. In addition to a number of other awards, in 2002 and 2001 he was a Highly Commended finalist in the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts, Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship at Artspace in Sydney. His work was included in two group exhibitions at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in 2006: Rectangular Ghost (curated by Amanda Rowell) and Stolen Ritual. His work is held by Newcastle Region Art Gallery, the Ergas Collection as well as a number of private collections in Australia. In September 2007, his work will be included in a group exhibition curated by Aaron Seeto at Campbelltown Arts Centre called News from the Islands. Views from the Couch is Newell Harry’s first solo commercial exhibition and his first exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.