James C. Harrison, born in Detroit in 1925, is a bold line drawn through the latter half of 20th century American Art History. He moved to New York in 1947. He was a protégé of Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg and later became an abiding influence to some of the great artists working today. Through circumstance, and maybe through choice, he did not achieve the recognition he deserved in his lifetime but his influence and conviction survive.


Let’s celebrate this ferocious, unique, uncompromising American Modernist Painter. He was like no other.

Look for the James C Harrison show "A Letter To Myself"  In May. 

With Special Guest Peter Acheson and Guest Curator Mr Henry Harper, Founder

of The Detroit Art Breakfast Club.  Watch for the date!

View a short introduction into the artist on youtube

About James C Harrison

The Early Years

James C. Harrison was born November 27th, 1925 in Detroit. He attended Cass Tech High School and graduated with a degree in commercial art in 1943. Other distinguished students who attended Cass Tech include artists Harry Bertoia and LeRoy Foster, singer Diana Ross, comedians Lily Tomlin and David Alan Grier, auto executive John DeLorean, rapper Big Sean, actor Ellen Burstyn,  former Miss USAs Carol Gist and Kenya Moore, violinist Regina Carter, musicians Donald Byrd, Jack White and Earl Kluge, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, automotive designer Preston Tucker,  and Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos to name a few. Although largely self-taught, Harrison studied briefly at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and Olivet College but soon came to the conclusion that traditional art education was not for him and in 1947 he moved to New York.   

New York 1950's - 1980's

While in New York Harrison supported himself by working as a color mixer at a textile manufacturer while pursuing his career as an aspiring artist.  Through the eighties, Harrison took his own inventory, paying homage to Billie Holiday, Walt Whitman, Poe, and Melville, in a series of portraits. His circle of admirers grew to include David Kapp, Chris Martin, James Knight, and Tom Bills. Harrison contributed to an anti-apartheid show a tri-faced Shiva skull announcing, “Through me, pass all biases.”   Participating in several group exhibitions Harrison had his first solo exhibit in 1987 at LedisFlam Gallery in New York. 

Final Years

Harrison sought spiritual transcendences through art and probed the inner machinations of the self through artistic practice. To Harrison, ALL images were religious, in that the contents of the imagination were sacred. He understood that imaging and dreaming were processes, the point of modern art was to reveal the process as much as the resulting images.  Unlike the approach of some of his New York School mentors, Harrison’s interrogation of the self was neither lofty in its aesthetic motivation nor didactic in execution.  A gritty, uncompromising, deeply personal counterpoint to the haughtier aesthetic ambitions of the abstract expressionists, Harrison’s oeuvre reveals the darker aspects of self-transcendence. Harrison’s road to the sublime led him through an intense exploration of sexuality, altered states of consciousness, Jungian dream analysis, alchemy, tantra, astrology and Kabbalah, leading ultimately to serious drug and alcohol addiction and his eventual recovery.

Harrison died on November 4, 1990 with an estate that included over 400 pieces of his own art.

Harrison's Obituary

Original Works by James C. Harrison Currently Available

(Sky) River Crossing

"(Sky) River Crossing" 1988/89. Mixed media on paper. Signed upper right. Image 23 .25 x 35.5", framed 26 x 38" high overall.

Price on Request

Right Side/Left Side

"Right Side/ Left Side", November 19, 1988. Crayon, Gouache & Tempera on Paper. Signed lower right. Image 21.25 x 29.25", matted and framed 27.25 x 29.25" high overall.

Price on Request

Thru Me Pass All Biases

"Thru Me Pass All Blases" 1984. Oil on canvas. This work was produced for an Anti-Apartheid show during Archbishop Desmond Tutu's visit to New York in 1984 (See Peter Acheson's Brooklyn Rail article "Mind Mandella" for information). Exhibited LedisFlam Gallery "Four Year Retrospective", New York, 1987. Signed Verso and inscribed : “CEZANNE’S FATHER SATURN & MINE ALSO. J.H. 4.8.84” and “BEAKING {sic} OUT – MY 1ST OIL PAINTING IN 30 YRS. DEDICATED TO DAVID KAPP. 4.9.84 J.H.”  Harrison was a friend and mentor of Kapp’s at A Place Apart Gallery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Image 18 x 24", in a painted and decorated frame created by the artist 25 x 37 1/2" high overall.

Price on Request

"Dad & Mom - Of Course"

"Dad & Mom - Of Course" July 1954/July 16, 1974. Gouache on Paper. Signed upper right.  Image 15 x 20.75", matted and framed 25 x 37" high overall.

Price on Request 

Articles and Reviews of Harrison's Work

A "Must Read" -  The Brooklyn Rail, April 2006

Brooklyn Rail "Mind Mandela" by Peter Acheson

The New York Times, April 2006

The New York Times "Art in Review" by Ken Johnson

Contact the Gallery

Original artwork from the Estate of James C. Harrison

is available exclusively through

Schmidt's Antiques Inc

5138 West Michigan Avenue Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197