Artist to Col­lect: Laura Har­ris

Arabella - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - writ­ten by Lorie Lee Steiner

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"

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