Ali Harrington

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What is my work about?

My pastel drawings depict dense, abstract landscapes. Central to these drawings are themes of transformation, the unconscious and infinity. They are the result of drawing while free-associating from a specific reference. I infuse my subjectivity into landscape features like clouds, mountains, plants, or rock formations, and use these features as flexible, disposable containers. I am most interested in describing the character of a place from multiple angles. The images are amalgamations of narrative bits, memories, attitudes and music.

Artist Statement

Clouds are ideal to draw because they can be anything. Of course any subject matter can be depicted in countless ways, but clouds, by their nature, embody notions of the infinite. They can take on any form or turn into a pattern, stretch across the sky, break apart or swell into a storm. They can be bright green, pink, yellow, purple and/or all of the above, lazily float by or act as menacing monsters. I find freedom in these containers. I fill them with things that I connect with emotionally: music, nature and personal memory.

The drawings here are selected from three different series: The Psychotropics, Roadtripping, and Songscape. One series led into the other.

The Psychotropics are inexhaustible; there is no end to the series. The idea for a drawing begins with a fleeting moment, a glance, a found symbol, essentially something that is observed, small and captivating. For example, a looming silhouette formed by a grouping of trees was the impetus for Psychotropics 3. Watching people race mini motor boats in Central Park was the inspiration for Psychotropics 12. I discover the image through the process of drawing. Creatures, nested forms and patterns emerge from the haze of accumulated marks. The immediacy and forgiving nature of pastels allows me to explore these developing visions with fluidity. The Psychotropics are discovered landscapes, reflecting a fusion of the conscious and unconscious, the observed and imagined.

Driving across the country last summer opened up new directions for my work. I visited many national parks between Los Angeles and Jersey City and was struck by the fervent beauty of these places. I set out to have each drawing in the Roadtripping series speak to a different iconic landscape. Working from memory and photographic references, I describe the visual rhythms of a particular place with brisk mark-making and vibrant colors. I think about the specifics like the quality of air, temperature, patterns of rock formations or foliage. As I draw I begin to remember the music I was listening to. I integrate stories and memories into the drawings, like hearing about wild fires in Bryce Canyon, or seeing daybreak at the Grand Canyon. The works are collections of moments that become fantastical portraits of the places I visited.

As the Roadtripping series progressed I began to incorporate more auditory influences into the drawings, using song lyrics as text and describing musical rhythms through mark-making. I questioned how an image could develop out of music, and specifically how landscape imagery could evolve from a song. I listened to a song repeatedly, getting to know the song well while drawing. I did not set out to illustrate a song or attempt to literally translate aspects of the auditory to the visual. Rather, I think about things like the tempo, the grit of a voice, the story being told, etc. and use these ideas to build a songscape.

I became interested in how handwriting functions in these drawings. For example in Songscape ~ Phantom Safari the writing is an essential compositional structure, bearing the weight of the image. My handwriting also acts as a gateway for me, both personally and as the artist, to become part of the subject matter. It is difficult to get beyond the associations and assumptions that surround handwriting. I think of diaries, grocery lists, letters, essentially things that are private, personal and perhaps revealing. Handwriting is a force to work against in these drawings. For me handwriting is the antithesis of clouds.

Drawing is a form of thinking. It is thrilling to figure out how to merge attitudes, experiences, and narrative bits into a cohesive image. I try to impose just enough order onto the chaos of color, gesture and rhythm to hold a structure in place. I will work on a drawing for hours, take a break for a week, rotate the paper and rework it. I layer the pastels with spray fixative and specify tone with a gum eraser.

While I am responsive to moments where the unconscious comes through, I try not to lose sight of the original reference. The meaning and associations attached to these works shift over time, but I hope that the resonating feeling of each place remains evident.

2014    MFA School of the Arts, Columbia University, New York, NY
2005    BFA Washington University in St. Louis, MO


Solo Exhibitions
2014    Ali Harrington: Neck of the Woods, The Majestic Theatre Condominiums, Jersey City, NJ


Group Exhibitions
Five from Fourteen, Nathan Bernstein Gallery, New York, NY
MFA Thesis Exhibition, Fisher Landau Center, Queens, NY
United Against Speculation, LeRoy Neiman Gallery, Columbia University, New York, NY
Networking Tips for Shy People, 200 Livingston, Brooklyn, NY

Shadows is Beast, LeRoy Neiman Gallery, Columbia University, New York, NY
First Year MFA Exhibition, Wallach Gallery, Columbia University, New York,     NY
Magical Thinking, 200 Livingston, Brooklyn, NY
hopeful? [Say Yes Until it Hurts], Pent House Gallery, Baltimore, MD

CUMC Fine Art Exhibition, Hammer Teaching and Learning Center, Columbia University, New York, NY

Put a Bow on It, Kraine Gallery Bar, New York, NY
Psssttt, Kraine Gallery Bar, New York, NY
Hot Ground, LeRoy Neiman Gallery, Columbia University, New York, NY

Prizes and Awards
Nomination for the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Visual Arts Grant

Nomination for the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Visual Arts Grant

Hazel H. Huntsinger Memorial Prize in Painting, Washington University in St. Louis, MO


Residencies and Fellowships
Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT
Andrew Fisher Scholarship, Columbia University
Visual Arts Program Scholarship, Columbia University

Advanced Painting Intensive, Columbia University


New American Paintings, MFA Annual Edition No. 105


Work Experience

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Basic Drawing, School of Continuing Education, Columbia University

Teaching Assistant, Plein Air Painting, Columbia University
Teaching Assistant, Figure Drawing I, Columbia University