Monday, July 15, 2019

School of Athens, 2019 ... Harryn

Paul Harryn, 2019
Acrylic paint of canvas, 72" H x 108" W
Allentown Public Library
Paul Harryn’s School of Athens

In the early part of his career, around 1976, Paul Harryn determined to undertake a series of art works based on influential philosophical, literary, and artistic sources. They were Prometheus Bound (from Rueben's), Prometheus Unbound (from Shelly’s play), The School of Athens ( from Raphael’s fresco), The Odyssey, ( by Homer), and In Search of Lost Time ( by Proust.)

Installed at the Allentown Public Library some 43 years later is the newly completed School of Athens. It is no simple thing to be in reverence and awe of Raphael’s masterpiece fresco at the Vatican in Rome. Formally, it achieves a height of brilliance in the lineage of art making that is incomparable. Its mere existence have stopped many an artist from continuing on. It is another thing, as is the case with Paul Harryn, to paint a major work with the same title and hold your own as a creator and artist.

The subject matter of The School of Athens is a paean to knowledge and values of reason, and to science and humanism. In both works, the composition is divided in half. To the left stands Plato, characterizing the Ideal. His attributes are Fire and Air, the insubstantial. It is a recognition of reality that transcends what we see. To the right of center in the picture stands Aristotle, representing the tangible and practical, whose attributes of Water and Earth propose solidity, things that can be measured. Or rather, what we see as real. All about them are other figures who fit into their side of the equation, and attributes all over representing the arts, music, science, mathematics, and philosophy. The figures overlap and move easily among each other. The composition uses architecture devised with linear perspective and orthogonal or perpendicular projections.

Am I describing Raphael, or Harryn? Or both? If you stand back, squint your eyes, and let them wander over the glowing canvas that Harryn has proffered up after so many years of consideration, you will be viewing the same affirmation that Raphael may have felt – the best humankind has to offer, and will continue to offer. We have to remember that Raphael lived in times seemingly no less socially precarious than our own. Yet this is precisely when Humanism took hold. The School of Athens by Paul Harryn is a joyous painting whose time is absolutely looking forward, just as the original School of Athens.

Clayton Campbell, 4.2019
Santa Monica, CA

Clayton Campbell is an artist, writer and cultural producer. He contributes to Flash Art, Artillery, After Image, among other magazines. 
His new e-publication of his original work, Tales From the Downside, Stories, Photographs, and Commentary, can be downloaded at no cost @