Hilary Harkness meticulously renders reimagined histories that comment on sociocultural forces with a distinctly contemporary sensibility. Her works explore personal dynamics through a lens that allows the power struggles inherent in sex, race, and class systems to play out on an uncensored stage. In this installation, Harkness exhibits a series of paintings inspired by Winslow Homer’s Prisoners from the Front (1866). Her interpretation of this iconic work takes place over a number of narrative scenes, including an interracial romance between Union General Francis Channing Barlow and Arabella Freeman, a Virginia landowner. As the series unfolds, the party traverses America. Passions escalate, loyalties are tested, and uneasy alliances are forged in Harkness’s fanciful and erotic take on the making of mid-19th century American mythology. The narrative scenes are contextualized by an ongoing series of intimate landscape paintings that she has steadily executed since 2016. Surveying a variety of regions from the Northeast to the West, Harkness, in gestural brushstrokes, documents an American landscape both physical and psychological. Taken together, these paintings provide different accounts of the legacy of slavery and the Great Migration, enriching the complex morality of both American history and the history of American Art.
Hilary Harkness (born 1971 in Detroit) earned her BA from UC Berkeley and her MFA from Yale University. She is best known for her detailed, figurative paintings depicting intricate narratives, and she often focuses on power, war, and gender in her practice, with many of her works referencing historical and mythological events. She has exhibited at The Flag Art Foundation, New York; the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain; and the Deste Foundation, Athens, Greece, among others. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. She lives and works in Brooklyn.