Lovable Hustlers: The Paintings of Michael Harrington

by Anna Kovler

The social interactions depicted in Michael Harrington’s paintings are mysterious. Men in plush interiors make business deals over cocktails. Women with sharp red nails and dandies in brightly colored suits mingle in mod-style living rooms. These characters and the settings they occupy seethe with an almost sleazy, comical air proper to outdated fashions and hapless hustlers. The Elvis side burns, colorful synthetic suits, aviator sunglasses, handlebar moustaches, and flowery wallpaper paint a nostalgic picture of era at once fabulous and overwrought.

In Jungle Trio and Friends (2017), three men in matching tiger print jackets are joined by two brightly suited men and two bodyguards. Sporting Elvis hairstyles in what looks like a green room or corner of a nightclub, the men stand discussing some undisclosed order of business. One grins jovially as he clasps his hands together, his fingers adorned with large gold rings. Maybe he just closed a deal. Or maybe this is just a way of passing time.

Past styles have a way of making people look funny. Harrington’s vintage scenarios elicit both a chuckle and desire for a time now long out of reach. Even if the styles in these works have an historical accuracy, the artist has made up most of the compositions and characters, constructing a new reality. Harrington paints loosely, with a single daub forming a mouth or moustache, imbuing his scenes with a fuzziness akin to the way memories or dreams are experienced. Looking at his hustlers, their ornate outfits blurring with the décor of their scene, it becomes apparent that the colors of memories, dreams, and paintings are always either brighter or darker than waking life.

Michael Harrington’s new paintings are on view at Katharine Mulherin in Toronto from November 24- December 24, 2017.