Artist to Collect: Laura Harris
Rebel with a Brush
written by Lorie Lee Steiner
Laura Harris grew up in the beautiful seaside town of Sidney, as a proud fourth generation Victorian (Victoria, BC). With acres of land outside her door, childhood was a never-ending adventure. Laura fondly recalls running free with her brother, building forts, falling off bicycles and exploring forests and fields. "As kids we spent time catching snakes and skipping rocks until we heard the dinner whistle. Reflecting back on that, I am certain most of my life skills were developed there in the fields and at home." Freedom of expression was strongly encouraged in Laura’s family; her first art teacher was her Dad, who showed her the principles of accurate drawing and perspective. "Never one to conform, I rebelled and chose to break all the rules. With this confident and free approach, I enjoyed painting and drawing throughout my childhood, but never imagined I’d be a professional artist. I painted on big canvases in my spare time for fun, and to fill my first homes as a young adult, though I chose graphic design as my path. It was the early ‘90s and the introduction of the Mac computer was so exciting!" After running her own design studio in Victoria for 6 years, a spur of the moment decision changed her course. Knowing that she loved to paint, a friend asked if she’d like to share a
studio space. Laura said "yes" and, within a few months, realized that painting was her calling. She closed her small design company and has been painting full time for almost 15 years. "My first big break came when I met with Adele Campbell Fine Art in Whistler to discuss representation. Nine months pregnant at the time, I literally waddled in with nine paintings in tow. How could they say no? Later that day, on our return home to the island, the gallery called and said, "We just sold six of your pieces. I think this is going to work out just fine." And it most certainly has. I have had a solo exhibit with the gallery every year since, and our partnership is solid and very much cherished." Laura also feels blessed to have strong, mutually respectful relationships with BC’S White Rock Gallery, Canada House in Banff, and Mayberry in Toronto and Winnipeg – ensuring coverage for her work across Canada.
"Jimmy Wright is without question, the reason I paint."
One summer in the ‘90s, at the Sooke Fine Art Show, Laura stood gobsmacked in front of one of Jimmy’s "huge, unapologetic, textured, awesomely-awkward pieces." The experience was an awakening. "My friend and I took a short night class with Jimmy, in which he taught us simple dry-brush techniques that ignited my creative mojo. Although he is no longer with us, I feel like his unique, quirky and rebellious spirit still guides my brush at times." When her daughter Madeleine was born, Laura’s style changed. "In early years, my work was bright and child-like, very loose and raw. Once I became a Mom, it became richer and deeply emotional, more intense and mature. The shift was a beautiful metaphor for motherhood. As I turn 46, I feel I’ve found my place in the most amazing tribe. Respected, supported,
understood and loved in the arts community and in my personal circle. Emotional safety is of the utmost importance, especially for the creative heart. I have a wonderful daughter and step-daughter, and a beautiful man by my side who loves without agenda, restrictions or boundaries. My artist soul thrives in this place and my motivation rises from it." For the last five years, Laura and her dear friend Rachel Reid have been offering inspirational retreats; workshops that are not just about painting, but about living creatively and with purpose. "We host them in magical places with delicious, nourishing food. We practice yoga, we get messy, paint freely, breathe deeply, laugh and remember what it feels like to let go. Our next workshop is in Tuscany in June … oh boy, it’s going to be good!"
Smitten by the Sea
Unfettered experimentation has ruled Laura’s heart – and art – all her life. Even as a child, she was led by whatever made her feel "I can be good at this, this makes me happy." She’s still guided today by that simple, ’trust your gut’ approach. Every time she steps into the studio, she experiences simple, powerful joy. For 15 years, that studio was a tiny 8ft x12ft haven, nestled in the backyard of her home. She adored the space but, last year, it was time to move on. Her new studio is three times the size and sits by a pond on a half-acre plot, close to a forest and across the street from the ocean. She explains, "When we were house hunting, ‘Must be able to smell the ocean’ was at the top of my list. Crazy but true. Life is good here and the studio still acts as my church. A lot of my work
has a 'big sky' feel to it, a theme conjured up on my daily walks through the forest and by the sea with my dogs. I feel an immense connection and I know that, if I just get in front of a canvas and start, the inspiration will appear like a gift." Inside the studio, music is muse. Laura loses herself between the melody and the brush. It’s an essential part of her process, and an amazing tool for teaching. Ever the rebel, she is impressed by artists like Michelle Miller, Frank Arnold, Marcel Dzama, and Meghan Hildebrand who take risks and whose work is bold and swift. "My paintings have been described as beautifully imperfect, and I love that description. They are semi-abstract in their approach with a process that’s rooted in memory, imagination and discovery. They are drippy, textured, bold, unapologetic, colourful … moving and still all at the same time. They are large in proportion and emotion, and some of them ask you to come in and stay awhile. They speak about truth, about love, about knowing and opening and trusting in all its messy glory." Putting the first stroke of colour on a fresh white canvas is a moment of sheer exhilaration, with just a whisper of fear to confirm that she is in the right place, doing exactly the right thing. "Armed with my big old brushes and the spark of an idea, the magic only comes when I let go and trust that my hand and heart know, and my mind will catch up when it needs to. I paint what I ache for, nothing less." Laura agrees with fellow artists that the best parts of the process are the beginning and the end. The middle bit is work. Layer after layer, suffused with time, patience and a gentle hand. She knows her creative job is done when she stands back and witnesses a painting breathing
on its own. At that point, a thick coat of varnish is applied to protect the work before it is sent off on a journey unknown. It is Laura’s deep hope that every piece is truly loved and brings joy in return.
Keeping It Real
The artist’s words of advice to beginners: Mistakes are gold. When you hear "no" from a perspective gallery (we all do), trust that it means something even better is on its way. Take the time to master your craft and fall in love with your own work. Deliver on time. Do good business. If you don’t find joy in it, then it’s not for you. She notes, "At this point in my career, I think the struggle to ‘stay real’ and take the necessary risks to maintain my creative spark is most difficult; the need to keep changing, growing, testing myself. This always becomes more difficult when you establish a name for yourself or become known for a certain subject matter or style. I am honoured that the people who connect to my work, continue to do so as it evolves." Laura’s tools of the trade include a combination of mixed media materials – canvas, linen, cloth, wood, gels, paper, pen and acrylic. For every new painting, she has a colour palette in mind and a rough idea of the subject matter, but that all goes out the window once work begins. In fact, her best results happen when she ‘gets out of the way’, allowing for the serendipitous mistakes that happen without being forced. Commissioned paintings bring great rewards.
What a thrill to visit some of the most remarkable homes in Canada and abroad, and discover their fascinating stories. Laura says, "It’s a pleasure to be invited to spend time with clients in their residence. I see the space to be filled, understand the energy, how the light will dance from morning to night, and how the space is used. I leave with a deep sense of what they need and desire, and it is an absolute honour to create something that will become a part of their lives." Everyone needs some down time. For Laura, that takes place in a beautiful, rustic, family cabin on the river about an hour from home. She’s been going to it all her life, and weekends spent there with loved ones are her favourite way to relax. Accompanied by a bottle of Mistaken Identity’s "Intensity" – a delicious, rich Cab Franc from Salt Spring Island. "Love the label," she says, "it happens to feature my work!" Laura Harris is Honorary Chair of the CNIB Eye Appeal. Learn more online at www. lauraharrisartist.com The works of Laura Harris are represented by these exceptional galleries: Adele Campbell Gallery Whistler, BC www.adelecampbell.com 604.938.0887 White Rock Gallery White Rock, BC www.whiterockgallery.com 604.538.4452
left, Unapologetically So, acrylic mixed media, 72" x 48" above, , Bold Truth and a Whisper, acrylic mixed media, 48" x 48"
previous spread, Seeking Promise, acrylic mixed media, 60" x 48" above, Broken and Whole, acrylic mixed media, 36" x 36" right, There’s Courage, acrylic mixed media 36" x 48"
left, Taken by Water, acrylic mixed media, 48" x 60" above, The Sky Set the Mood, acrylic mixed media, 48" x 60"
above, Finding Gold, acrylic mixed media, 36" x 36" right, Radiant, acrylic mixed media, 48" x 60"
Dreams Collected, acrylic mixed media, 36" x 36"
Rest Stop for Dreamers, acrylic mixed media, 36" x 36"