Jeffrey Harris

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1949

Grandparents at Okains

Between 1974 and 1977 Jeffrey created twenty-four extraordinary, jewel like paintings based on photographs of his relatives, marshalled together for the obligatory snapshots to mark important family occasions. In this case it’s the artist’s grandparents who are lined up before a car and buildings at Okains Bay in their Sunday best. In this series, known as Harris’s ‘Icons’, Jeffrey drew on the fifteenth-century religious paintings of Sienese artist Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo (il Sassetta). His admiration of Sassetta’s paintings can be seen in the luminous colours and spatial clarity of Grandparents at Okains.

(Jeffrey Harris: The Gift, 1 October 2022 – 12 March 2023)

Read an article about Jeffrey Harris in Art New Zealand

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • [As Time Unfolds, 5 December 2020 – 7 March 2021] (

    Jeffrey Harris had been living back on Te Pātaka-o-Rākaihautū / Banks Peninsula, where he was born and raised, for about two years when he painted this jewel-like painting, based on an earlier photograph of his grandparents at Okeina / Okains Bay. In his mid-twenties, married, with a baby daughter and living in an old house at Taraouta / Barrys Bay, he was not far from where his family had been farming since the 1850s. Harris had nurtured an inner life through drawing and painting since his teenage years, and gained his art education largely through books. Working from an attic studio at the head of Akaroa harbour, he built a large series of enigmatic family ‘icons’, reinterpreting the visual language of the Italian Renaissance – particularly the work of the 15th-century Sienese painter known as Il Sassetta – to impart a sense of timelessness to his own questioning and unfolding personal history.

    (As Time Unfolds, 5 December 2020 – 7 March 2021)

  • [Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016] (

    This icon-like work is one of twenty-four extraordinary, jewel-like paintings Jeffrey Harris made between 1974 and 1977, in which he channeled the luminous colours and spatial clarity of the fifteenth-century Italian artist known as Il Sasetta to recast his own life, and that of his family, as a kind of monumental narrative cycle. On a strangely weathered surface, the artist’s grandparents project what art critic Peter Ireland called “an oppressive solitude”. With their grimly pursed mouths and aged hands gnarled like monstrous tree roots, there’s as much holding them apart as bringing them, momentarily, together.

    (Unseen: The Changing Collection, 18 December 2015 – 19 June 2016)