Paul Anthony Harford “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”

Peter Freeman

poster for Paul Anthony Harford “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”

This event has ended.

Peter Freeman, Inc. presents The Circus Animals’ Desertion, an exhibition of works on paper by Paul Anthony Harford (1943–2016) selected by Cecily Brown. Originally trained as a painter, Harford drew almost every day of his life. Over the years he produced hundreds of highly finished drawings but resisted opportunities to exhibit them, remaining virtually unknown until after his death. This is the first Harford exhibition outside of the United Kingdom.

Like William Butler Yeats’s narrator in The Circus Animals’ Desertion, Harford found inspiration in the debris and “refuse” of everyday life in the sleepy coastal towns of Southend-on-Sea and Weymouth where he lived.

A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags […]

Drawn to the permanent residents of these British seaside enclaves, many of whom were plagued with addiction and sickness, he was fascinated by their complicated relationships with the resort towns that, on the surface, promise an escape from the larger world. His crisp, meticulous graphite drawings challenge this aspirational characterization of these otherwise declining areas, depicting a sedate world that is punctured by a sense of unease and the uncanny.

In one drawing, a seagull flies above a man who appears to be falling into his car, his body contorted into an almost impossible pose. Another drawing takes this even further, depicting an anonymous pair of legs essentially melting into the pavement and detached from any other identifiable body parts, while other distorted images of wrecked cars embody a similarly precarious, restless quality. And yet unexpected surrealist details, like a bed of flowers blooming from an upturned sedan or a pair of wings protruding from the top of another totaled vehicle, reveal moments of tenderness and humor within Harford’s otherwise soberly rendered scenes of mundane life.

Cecily Brown has a unique connection to the artist, who was married to her aunt when she was young. In a piece she wrote for the publication that accompanied Harford’s first solo exhibition Other Voices, Other Rooms, she refers to his drawings as an “inspirational presence” throughout her childhood. She goes on to recall the works that stand out most in her memory, including “a figure on a tractor, elongated and torqued like an El Greco saint” and A Return of a Prodigal Son (1966), an early and unusually colorful work on paper included in her selection for The Circus Animals’ Desertion.

Born in Weston-Super-Mare in 1943, Paul Anthony Harford studied at Byam Shaw School of Art in London before moving on a whim to Southend-on-Sea in 1963. In Southend, and later Weymouth, Harford worked at times as a schoolmaster, cleaner, bin man, and hospital porter, all while maintaining his prolific drawing practice. His first solo exhibition, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was posthumously presented at Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea, in 2018 with subsequent solo exhibitions held at Sadie Coles HQ, London, in 2018 and 2020.



from January 12, 2023 to February 25, 2023

Opening Reception on 2023-01-12 from 18:00 to 20:00

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