The critic Brian Sewell was an early champion of Harrison’s work. He recognised its
committed, insistent nature and described the artist as a “visionary prophet” and his
paintings as “big, bold, beautiful and threatening”.
Richard Harrison was born in 1954 to an unmarried mother and was adopted at 20
days old by a comfortable upper-middle class mercantile family from Liverpool. He
was educated at Aysgarth School, a prep school in North Yorkshire, and at Harrow
School, which Harrison describes as one of England's "finest prisons for adolescent
boys”. He read Medieval History at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he completed
his degree in 1976. After several years of wandering and drift, which culminated in a
three month spell in a drug re-habilitation clinic in the summer of 1984, he went on
to complete BA and MA degrees in Painting at Chelsea School of Art in 1987 and
His first solo show in 1990 at The Berkeley Square Gallery in London’s Mayfair
district was greeted with great acclaim by Brian Sewell, who declared in London’s
Evening Standard newspaper that “Harrison’s pictures are wholly contemporary and
could be of no other time than ours, and yet, I suspect, such old masters as Goya,
Rembrandt and Delacroix might recognise him as in some sense their heir”. Many
solo shows in England and abroad have followed, and his monumental crucifixion
triptych “At The End … A Beginning” hangs in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.
Harrison began as an abstract painter with a convincing interest in texture, not only
of paint, but even of the canvas on which he painted, which he frequently burned or
charred ; in these, though they represented nothing, there was a mysterious link
with the Rococo paintings of the eighteenth century. He then moved on through
landscape and the figure to biblical and mythical narratives that were common
among the European painters from the High Renaissance to the High Olympus of
Victorian art. Temptation and the constant struggle between good and evil are
themes that Harrison has returned to in recent figurative works, as is the other
given in life, that one day death will be waiting around the corner.
In his book “Nothing Wasted : The Paintings of Richard Harrison”, published in 2010,
Brian Sewell concluded with, “We should look at him not as a painter comfortably
settled in middle age, but as a young painter with at least as much ahead of him as
in his past, a young painter of undiminishing turbulent enquiry, but with all the
advantages of practice, maturity, education and broad experience”.