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Abie Harris' sublime show at Rebus

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"Townscape" (2008), pastel on paper - PHOTO COURTESY OF REBUS WORKS

Structure + Color: Drawings by Abie Harris
Rebus Works
Through May 31

Since his retirement as university architect at North Carolina State University a few years ago, Abie Harris has pretty much been able to devote himself full time to another professional pursuit: his art.

His show at Rebus Works is a nimble display of the benefits of his recently focused drawing efforts. Harris has, in fact, always drawn—both on the job and off—and not just in the technical manner dictated by architectural practice. He has a longstanding regimen of recording thoughts and observations in his sketchbook, nurtured during his days studying at the College of Design at NCSU (during its modernist heyday in the 1950s) and afterward at the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

For the artist, architect and especially the design student, sketchbook drawing serves as shorthand. It is not only a means to quickly and effectively capture inspirations and impressions but also is an essential tool in working through various thoughts and reiterations of ideas. Harris has recently expanded his repertoire beyond the pages of his sketchbook to larger scale drawings—many of which form key portions of the exhibition.

Harris has hung the show in four distinct sections titled "Campus," "Campus Details," "Globe Road Landscapes" and "Structures." This last section is aptly named as the show itself is based on structure as an underlying principle, one that permeates the work. A sense of structure is present throughout—both literally and figuratively.

Exploring the more literal notion of structure are works that reference the master planning of campus quads, building courtyard spaces, urban corridor studies and aerial views of Raleigh's downtown grid. Hard edges, bold figure/ ground shapes and repetitive colonnades frequently appear, denoting strong architectural forms and sharply defined spaces.

However, the pastel landscape drawings that encompass the "Globe Road" portion of the exhibition (based on impressions from a specific locale in western North Carolina) work more metaphorically. These softer drawings investigate the horizontality of land meeting sky through keen color abstraction and a feeling of immediacy in execution. These drawings are also the most minimal of the works on display, and they earnestly explore the fundamental elements of rectangle and line.

Particularly enlivening the show is the strong sense of color Harris imbues throughout. Vivid greens, pinks, yellows and oranges compellingly mediate between adroit draftsmanship and efficacious composition. The drawings in the "Structures" section are actually looser than the name implies, as they mediate between lyrical exploration of color and a rational linearity of architectural form. These drawings are the most layered and collage-y of the bunch and have a certain deconstructed feel to them. It is as if in summing up the theme of the show they have peeled away building sections and structural members piece by piece to arrive at their essence.

I left the gallery feeling vivified by all this. The mere fact that basic, plain old drawing materials like charcoal and pastel can still present endless possibilities of expression truly moves me in this, our most overtly digital age. When these media are employed so effectively, they appear to effortlessly bridge the gap between art and other design disciplines. The effect is one of transcendence.

Abie Harris delivers a lecture about his work at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 29, at Rebus Works. Visit www.rebusworks.us for more info.

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