Last week in recalling the time Rena, James Harkins, Robert Delano, and I went on a road trip together, all of a sudden Jame’s energy was very present. I even wondered if Rena and my old friend are in touch with one another. Not able to shake this energy, I called James and Nancy for the first time in many years. I left a message saying I was authoring a autobiography, and he’s in it. Five minutes later, Nancy calls and informs me James died of heart failure back in March the same month I lost Hollis.
I asked Nancy to send me some photos and some of Jame’s art work. Until then, I will employ the work of others to try to describe what James the Artist was about. He greatly admired Kirchner and Pollack, and did more than a thousand works in their style. James would fold a 24 X 30 inch piece of watercolor paper twice to arrive at the size of most of his work. This made it easier to stack and store in boxes that were taped and sealed, the addresses of famous art museums scribbled on these boxes lest there be any confusion, or tug-of-war, as to what museum gets what work. If anything, my old friend was an optimist! Too bad those who were in James’ life were not so positive.
Take for instance his younger brother, Michael Harkins. Seeing that his brother was destined for greatness, Michael begged his father to send him to the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Fearing he would live in the shadow of his older brother’s achievements this jealous sibling tried to intercept what Fate had in store for James. However, Michael failed to take this great opportunity his father paid good money for, seriously, and squandered it. Hooking up with the beat poet, Michael McClure, Michael became a womanizer, a cosmic jokester, a CCAC prankster. Michael coined the phrase ‘California College of Arts and Laughs’.
One could say, Michael was the grasshopper, and James the ant. While Michael only produced a few works of art, it is estimated his very serious brother rendered over 8,000 works. James Harkins might go down is art history as the most prolific artist that ever lived – and the most serious!
James was not a dabbler. During what Michael cynically titled ‘His linoleum Period’ James would do as many as six paintings a day. But, that is nothing compared to his leaf and Jack-o-lantern periods. Greatly inspired by the pumpkin James Wyeth rendered, James did as many as ten lanterns a day. Being a Buddhist, James tried to capture an inner light that was trying to get out of the orifices of our human existence that is born in a darkness that only a few attempt to escape from.
Perceiving we are held prisoner in our fleshy forms, Harkin’s pumpkins began to disolve into what can be described as ‘The Madness of Mundane Existence’ What looks like a journey back to early infancy, is in truth an attempt to un-know, so one can really know.
Finding himself on the brink of Nirvana, and about to see the light which we all seek, here come his jealous brother to unmercifully ridicule and shame his older brother, who for one thing had captured his lost childhood – almost by accident!
“Leafs are free!” James told me one day when he came from out of the rain, soaking wet, holding a armful of leaves he found in the gutter where he would splash about in his rubbers on stormy days – with abandon!
“I saved these poor leaves from going down the storm drain. Thanks to me, they escaped total oblivion. There is a message here for me. These leaves speak to me!”
In order to escape this insideous sibling rivalry, James launched into his Leaf Period. Desperate to find a medium that would not give rise to the extremely critical nature of Michael, James did over 2,000 paintings of leaves. In this great pile, James found sanctuary from his younger brother.
In the autumn leaves of our childhood memories, James alas found the freedom to romp and play in extacy, free of the torment, free of the jealousy, and free to let his little light shine! His ‘Little Pumpkins of Wonderment’ have toured the world and have brought tears to the eyes of the staunchest critics. Even the Pope in Rome took notice.
“Until now, I believed Jack-O-Lanterns was Devil Worship. Mr. Harkins has shown me the light! God bless this merry soul.”
To sum up the work of James Harkins, this persecuted artist blazed a path back to the empty lots we spent our youth playing in, and invites the happy inner child lurking in us all, to return to our age of innocence. Un-happy children, need not apply.
Jon Gregory Presco
President: Royal Rosamond Press
Knight Templar of the Holy Shroud
Grand Master of the Swan Brotherhood
Holy Knight of the Order of Saint George de Rougemont