“Artists do destroy while they create, though the slate is never clean of art’s history. Harkness’ paintings contend with and disrupt conventions in narrative paintings, using fantasy and realities, possible and improbable ones. She entertains and plagues stereotypes, often with comic effect, which have been embroidered into psyches for centuries. In our messy image-laden culture, common representations of women show them as benign, unlikely to cause trouble, but Harkness’s figures act out, act up, and cause trouble. They are trouble-makers.”
– Lynne Tillman, Hilary Harkness: Queer Visions, 2023
P·P·O·W is pleased to present Prisoners from the Front, Hilary Harkness’s first exhibition with the gallery, her first solo exhibition in over a decade, and the largest exhibition of her work to-date. In her meticulously rendered small-scale paintings, Harkness fuses traditional painting techniques with a distinctly contemporary sensibility to explore power struggles inherent in sex, race, and class systems on an uncensored stage.
A culmination of works from 2019 - 2023, The Arabella Freeman Series is an episodic drama which chronicles an alternative narrative of the making of Winslow Homer’s iconic Civil War painting, Prisoners from the Front, 1866. With painterly sophistication, Harkness intertwines her singular imagination with in-depth research into American Civil War history and the ancestral history of her wife Ara’s family to challenge our visual understanding of American mythology. Centered around an enduring relationship between Homer’s protagonist, General Francis Channing Barlow, and a fictitious, free, prosperous, landowning Virginian family, the Freemans, The Arabella Freeman Series questions the layers of omissions in the historical record about queer lives, the lives of free African Americans, Homer’s creative process, and the personal lives of the figures he painted.
The exhibition also includes works from Harkness’s 2007-2016 series, At Home, At War: Life with Alice and Gertrude. Reinterpreting scenes from the life of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, the series tells a very different tale about the iconic lesbian couple’s transgressive and tumultuous relationship. Also on view for the first time is Experienced People Needed, 2018. Building on Harkness’s earlier cross-sections combining architecture and art collections, the painting bridges the two larger bodies of work presented. The painting depicts Harkness’s revisionist take on the installation of Jackson Pollock’s 1943 debut show at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in New York City and includes artists of the time who had yet to be recognized such as Jacob Lawrence, Bill Traylor, and Lee Krasner.
In At Home, At War: Life with Gertrude and Alice, Experienced People Needed, and The Arabella Freeman Series, the theater of war, whether World War II or the American Civil War, is close at hand. Bringing these works together, Prisoners from the Front reveals the ways in which Harkness wages her own war against the hegemonic historical record, wielding unparalleled skill and imagination to put the stories and intersectional experiences of women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ people on center stage.
The Arabella Freeman Series is accompanied by a gallery zine in which Harkness takes the viewer through the story of the Freeman family, scene by scene.
In conjunction with the exhibition, on November 2nd at 7:30pm, harpist Dr. Ashley Jackson will present, The Things We Carry, a musical response to The Arabella Freeman Series that draws from the musician’s own experiences to investigate the themes of legacy, identity, and ownership.
Hilary Harkness: Everything For You, the first comprehensive monograph on the artist’s work, will be released in Spring 2024. Published by Black Dog Press and P·P·O·W, this heavily illustrated publication will provide an opportunity for further exploration of Harkness’s practice alongside essays by Lynne Tillman and Dr. Ashley Jackson, as well as an interview of the artist by Ivy Haldeman.
Hilary Harkness (b. 1971) earned her BA from UC Berkeley and her MFA from Yale University. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at The FLAG Art Foundation, New York, NY; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain; American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY; Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, OR; and The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT; among others. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Yuz Museum Shanghai; Mead Art Museum, Amherst, MA; and the Seavest Collection, New York, NY; among others. In 2017, she received the Henry Clews Award and participated in the inaugural Master Residency Program at the Château de La Napoule in France. She has lectured widely at leading academic and cultural institutions. In 2014, she co-curated Roy Lichtenstein: Nudes and Interiors at The FLAG Art Foundation.