The BankRI Galleries present:
BankRI Turks Head Gallery: “Time and Space: Paintings and Watercolors by Karen Harris,” April 7 through May 4, 2016 at the BankRI Turks Head branch in downtown Providence at One Turks Head Place. There will be a Gallery Night reception on April 21 from 5 to 8:30 pm with live music by guitarist Mark Armstrong and light refreshments. Exhibit hours are Monday through Wednesday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
MEET THE ARTIST – KAREN HARRIS
When the young Jamaican girl stepped off the PanAm jet onto the tarmac at Greene Airport, her first thought was that the air smelled “different.” There were no warm Caribbean breezes, no turquoise blue waters – only the cool, grey green palette of New England. Karen Harris had touched down in Rhode Island.
Today, Harris is a painter and watercolorist who works at the Rhode Island School of Design as an internship manager and career advisor. Originally from Jamaica, Harris immigrated to the United States when she was 10 years old.. She attended Saint Xavier’s school, graduating early when she was just 16 years old. Harris was accepted to college at both RISD and the Parsons School of Design. Opting to move to New York City, she choose Parsons, but the energy of the school and the city challenged her, and she could not sleep.
Harris found herself back in Rhode Island, her place at RISD taken by another student. She attended Rhode Island College for a year before transferring to RISD and studying illustration. She credits the late Tom Sgouras, an accomplished illustrator and painter, with giving her the tools to become the watercolorist she is today.
“I can feel the transparency and layering,” says Harris when she speaks of watercolor. “I see the negative spaces and the accidents waiting to happen. Tom opened up that world for me.”
After graduation, Harris wanted to see the world. Five days into her grand tour, exploring the streets of Bristol, England, she locked eyes with a young man. At the very same spot on two more occasions, she ran into him. Her fate was sealed when she walked into a used bookstore and unknowingly bought an atlas that used to belong to him with his name written in it – David Harris. Their first date lasted twenty-four hours. “It was as if we had known each other forever,” Harris explains, “and we were just catching up.” A year later, he came to America and they were married.
Harris has always been an overachiever of sorts, an accomplished juggler – of careers, family and making art. She has had an impressive array of jobs including account executive, assistant art director, caterer, colorist, graphic designer, illustrator and teacher. “If you’re Jamaican, and you only have one job,” Harris says, “ You’re no good.” She and her husband even started their own company Harart Designs, which focused on jewelry inspired by Native American petroglyphs. They started a family and raised two sons.
Somehow through all the activity, Harris managed to keep her hand in making drawings and watercolors. “I would make moody portraits of myself,” Harris explains. “Every time I walked by the bathroom mirror in my studio, I’d do a quick sketch.” Her husband loves to garden and Harris found inspiration in the greenery for her watercolors.
But she felt unbalanced and needed to immerse herself in painting. Attending a reception for painter Nancy Friese’s exhibit at the Newport Art Museum, she met some people from I-Park, an artist residency program in East Haddam, Connecticut. They encouraged her to apply.
Last May, she was finally able to tune the world out and paint in earnest. The beauty of I-Park’s natural surroundings gave her all the impetus she needed to paint. “I only needed four hours of sleep,” Harris says. “The rest of the time, I painted.”
The paintings are loose, fluid sketches of the natural world. The colors are bold and unexpected, purples and turquoise greens intertwined. Big strong shapes, a sure confident hand and a sense of absolute joy permeate the paintings. They have a dancer’s energy, movement personified.
Harris is back home and trying hard to integrate her painting time with her life. “There are times,” she says, “when my hair is a mess and I can’t talk. I’m very moody and I can’t do anything but paint.”
The BankRI Galleries are curated by Paula Martiesian, a Providence-based artist and arts advocate.