Life, the universe and everything

THEREFORE I AM, I THINK: Artist, philosopher, spiritual seeker, wizard and hobbit-haven maker, Peter Harris’s exhibition at Dreamspace in many ways reflects his quest for the meaning of life. Picture by Liam Clayton
Peter Harris in contemplative mode.

COLLECTORS, curators and creators of sacred objects for the re-enchantment of every day life”, says the sign in the window of a building in Carnarvon Street.

On Saturday, you have an opportunity to visit the gallery of sacred objects within to view works by artist, philosopher, spiritual seeker and Dreamspace founder Peter Harris.

The exhibition is in many ways a visual narrative of Harris’s lifelong quest for the meaning of life, as well as his love of stories that embrace magic and mythical beings. Harris’s search for truth is inextricable from his art.

“The thing that motivates me is the source of creativity,” he says.

To help tap into that source, Dreamspace has not only the central gallery, but workshops, library, office and a blue meditation room.

“The Blue Room is a dream space within the Dreamspace,” says Harris.

“This is where you can really get back to that vision.”

Among sacred objects in the Blue Room is a carved archer gnome, the guardian of knowledge, who features in Harris’s fantasy epic, The Apples of Aeden.

The book is part of a series Harris bound himself and for which he invented a technique where he has moulded the volume’s fore-edge.

Influences

Harris’s paintings show the influence of post-Impressionist painters Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and early modernist Marc Chagall whose works are often dreamlike, paganistic, folkish and romantic. Harris explores a wide range of media that include drypoint on acetate, a one-piece plaster of Paris frame, and painting.

Rendered in copper sulphate on the white surface the painting depicts his wife Raewyn walking their dogs. A wardrobe or book-like construction inspired by CS Lewis’s fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, hangs on one wall.

The philosopher-artist experiments with moulding techniques and materials such as sand moulds, plaster of Paris, liquid rubber and expanding (and reducing) resin. Soaked in water a casting made from expanding resin grows to three times the original size.

“Then you can make another mould from that. There are a lot of cool things you can do if you keep an open mind,” he says.

Contemporary culture has been overtaken by the nihilistic and “post-everything”, says Harris.

Making ugly art is easy.

“It’s a lot harder to make beautiful art.”

The Dreamspace exhibition includes paintings he made as a fifth and sixth former at the “Dickensian” Whangarei Boys’ High School.

“I still like the paintings I did,” he says.

“I was drawn to work out the meaning of life.”

On leaving school he enrolled at Christchurch’s Ilam School of Fine Arts where he lasted six weeks.

“I cashed in the fees and bought a motorbike and drove back to Whangarei to find the meaning of life and art.”

He read the writings of philosophers including those of French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist Rene Descartes, the mind behind the syllogism, “I think, therefore I am”.

He went into the bush to try to understand the universe though nature and at a later stage, planned to become a Bible translator. He attended Otago University where he studied Greek and Hebrew so he could translate the Bible from its original language then eventually turned to agnosticism.

The odyssey

“I’ve been on an odyssey since then,” he says.

While on his quest for truth, he and his wife Raewyn made a living from crafting oval picture frames.

The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M Pirsig’s exploration of “metaphysics of quality”, had a significant impact on the way Harris approached their business. When an attempt to embark on a frame-making partnership in Whangarei turned pear-shaped Harris realised he didn’t need a factory.

He and Raewyn successfully created that in a small town outside of Whangarei, but in time Harris felt mentally and spiritually he was receding from what he wanted to be.

“I decided I had to go back to where I was studying and thinking about the meaning of life.”

When he read British physicist Stephen Hawking’s book on cosmology, A Brief History of Time, he realised he needed to put everything aside to think about the meaning of life. In the summer of 1990 he re-engaged with the vita contemplativa (the contemplative life).

“I thought I would do the hardest thing first so I went back to university to study philosophy.”

For his thesis he wrote a paper about the geodesic sphere and in 1995 graduated with an MA in philosophy.

The writings of 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche are another guiding light for Harris. The artist-philosopher takes on board Nietzsche’s view that the Übermensch (Superman) does not follow morality of common people since that favours mediocrity. Instead, the Übermensch rises above the notion of good and evil and above the herd.

He also believes in Greek philosopher Plato’s view that non-physical forms (or ideas) more accurately represent reality.

Included in the Dreamspace exhibition is a portrait in white acrylic on black canvas of logician, mathematician, and philosopher Kurt Gödel.

Harris describes Gödel as a mystic and Platonist who proved no system can be self-contained.

“He thought this showed there is an absolute,” says Harris.

“He was a fierce Platonist and I am too.”

The exhibition is mostly to introduce people to the idea of Dreamspace, he says.

“I think you’re near your dream space, your core, when you begin to feel happy.”


COLLECTORS, curators and creators of sacred objects for the re-enchantment of every day life”, says the sign in the window of a building in Carnarvon Street.

On Saturday, you have an opportunity to visit the gallery of sacred objects within to view works by artist, philosopher, spiritual seeker and Dreamspace founder Peter Harris.

The exhibition is in many ways a visual narrative of Harris’s lifelong quest for the meaning of life, as well as his love of stories that embrace magic and mythical beings. Harris’s search for truth is inextricable from his art.

“The thing that motivates me is the source of creativity,” he says.

To help tap into that source, Dreamspace has not only the central gallery, but workshops, library, office and a blue meditation room.

“The Blue Room is a dream space within the Dreamspace,” says Harris.

“This is where you can really get back to that vision.”

Among sacred objects in the Blue Room is a carved archer gnome, the guardian of knowledge, who features in Harris’s fantasy epic, The Apples of Aeden.

The book is part of a series Harris bound himself and for which he invented a technique where he has moulded the volume’s fore-edge.

Influences

Harris’s paintings show the influence of post-Impressionist painters Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and early modernist Marc Chagall whose works are often dreamlike, paganistic, folkish and romantic. Harris explores a wide range of media that include drypoint on acetate, a one-piece plaster of Paris frame, and painting.

Rendered in copper sulphate on the white surface the painting depicts his wife Raewyn walking their dogs. A wardrobe or book-like construction inspired by CS Lewis’s fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, hangs on one wall.

The philosopher-artist experiments with moulding techniques and materials such as sand moulds, plaster of Paris, liquid rubber and expanding (and reducing) resin. Soaked in water a casting made from expanding resin grows to three times the original size.

“Then you can make another mould from that. There are a lot of cool things you can do if you keep an open mind,” he says.

Contemporary culture has been overtaken by the nihilistic and “post-everything”, says Harris.

Making ugly art is easy.

“It’s a lot harder to make beautiful art.”

The Dreamspace exhibition includes paintings he made as a fifth and sixth former at the “Dickensian” Whangarei Boys’ High School.

“I still like the paintings I did,” he says.

“I was drawn to work out the meaning of life.”

On leaving school he enrolled at Christchurch’s Ilam School of Fine Arts where he lasted six weeks.

“I cashed in the fees and bought a motorbike and drove back to Whangarei to find the meaning of life and art.”

He read the writings of philosophers including those of French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist Rene Descartes, the mind behind the syllogism, “I think, therefore I am”.

He went into the bush to try to understand the universe though nature and at a later stage, planned to become a Bible translator. He attended Otago University where he studied Greek and Hebrew so he could translate the Bible from its original language then eventually turned to agnosticism.

The odyssey

“I’ve been on an odyssey since then,” he says.

While on his quest for truth, he and his wife Raewyn made a living from crafting oval picture frames.

The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M Pirsig’s exploration of “metaphysics of quality”, had a significant impact on the way Harris approached their business. When an attempt to embark on a frame-making partnership in Whangarei turned pear-shaped Harris realised he didn’t need a factory.

He and Raewyn successfully created that in a small town outside of Whangarei, but in time Harris felt mentally and spiritually he was receding from what he wanted to be.

“I decided I had to go back to where I was studying and thinking about the meaning of life.”

When he read British physicist Stephen Hawking’s book on cosmology, A Brief History of Time, he realised he needed to put everything aside to think about the meaning of life. In the summer of 1990 he re-engaged with the vita contemplativa (the contemplative life).

“I thought I would do the hardest thing first so I went back to university to study philosophy.”

For his thesis he wrote a paper about the geodesic sphere and in 1995 graduated with an MA in philosophy.

The writings of 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche are another guiding light for Harris. The artist-philosopher takes on board Nietzsche’s view that the Übermensch (Superman) does not follow morality of common people since that favours mediocrity. Instead, the Übermensch rises above the notion of good and evil and above the herd.

He also believes in Greek philosopher Plato’s view that non-physical forms (or ideas) more accurately represent reality.

Included in the Dreamspace exhibition is a portrait in white acrylic on black canvas of logician, mathematician, and philosopher Kurt Gödel.

Harris describes Gödel as a mystic and Platonist who proved no system can be self-contained.

“He thought this showed there is an absolute,” says Harris.

“He was a fierce Platonist and I am too.”

The exhibition is mostly to introduce people to the idea of Dreamspace, he says.

“I think you’re near your dream space, your core, when you begin to feel happy.”


Dreamspace Gallery, 61 Carnarvon Street, opens on Saturday at 5pm.

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