Monday, November 17, 2014

"No Art, Just Start" - An Interview with Jim Harris

When I first saw Jim Harris's work - those shapes, those forms, those colors, music on a canvas - I knew what had to be done. A Pinterest board must be created. Check.

The more I stared at his 620+ works on Saatchi Art, the more I wanted to know about Jim.  Where does he live?  How in the world does he make music with a paintbrush?  Once again, I knew what had to be done.  Plead with Jim for an interview.  Check.

Colony 1
by Jim Harris
Let's chat.


Q1.  What is your first memory of art?

A1.  My father worked in advertising and one day when I was 5 or 6 he brought home pictures of animals drawn from my name made by an artist on a local TV channel. I thought they were really fantastic. I thought art had some magical qualities at that point. [Editor's note: Oh, Jim, it does, it does.]

Let me see what spring is like
on Jupiter and Mars

by Jim Harris

Q2.  What is the first work of art you created?

A2. I've been drawing since I was a child so I really don't remember. When I was in the 4th grade I started to make somewhat complex battle scenes of the American Revolution and the American Civil War, lots of soldiers, forts and canons. I also liked drawing Medieval Knights on horses. My first oil painting was made in High School - it was a painting of a giant olive. [Editor's mental note:  Follow up interview; ask what came between war, horses, forts and the giant olive.]

I Dreamt of a Red House Last Night
by Jim Harris
Q3.  Was there a point in your life when you decided to try art, or were you always an artist?

A3.  I've always enjoyed making art. In my teens and twenties I struggled between art and music, I thought I could only do one or the other. Then I just let them co-exist. But the visual arts are more important to me now.

Ludwig Van
by Jim Harris
  Q4.  Are there specific triggers that cause you to race to a blank canvas/paper or do you impose a certain discipline on yourself?

A4.  I paint every day so I'm pretty disciplined. The more I work the more I become inspired. Sometimes dreams inspire me. Art museums really inspire me. Music always inspires me. When I attended The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I had drawing classes with Bill Flynn whose slogan was "No art, just start." I always recall that slogan if I feel lazy.

by Jim Harris
Q5.  When you are working on a piece, is there a point at which you realize you have a masterpiece taking shape on the canvas/paper?

A5.  I usually get fed up with a painting and give up for the day, when I return the next morning I realize it's done or almost.

Sun Ra: Angels and Demons at Play
by Jim Harris
Q6.  Your Saatchi bio describes you as an "American Artist Living and Working in Japan."  Can you tell us the journey that took you to Japan?  Is there something about Japan that informs/inspires your art?

A6.  My wife is Japanese, that's why I live in Japan. The architecture in Tokyo is really fantastic - so many different angles and colors. Old Buddhist Temples and Shrines really inspire me in the Japanese countryside. The clouds and blue skies over Japan are really dramatic and have a great influence on me every day. Walking down the street I collect lots of visual information and store it in my brain, I later use these sights as reference in my studio. 

by Jim Harris
Q7.  Your work, though mostly abstract, has a flow, a musicality that is so appealing.  I notice many of your pieces have the word "jazz" in the label portion of the description. Would you talk about music and its influence on your art?

A7. I love pretty much all kinds of music. I've been playing guitar for many years. I studied Chinese music for two years when I lived in NYC [New York City]. As a teenager I listened to Punk, New Wave and No Wave, bands such as The Clash, Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls, MC5, Black Flag etc. I later got into avant-garde music and eventually graduated to jazz. I've listened to a lot of Miles Davis, Sonny Criss, Grant Green, Ornette Coleman, Anthony Braxton, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, etc. Music really pushes my art and gives me lots of energy. The geometric forms in my paintings have a strong tie to jazz. I believe Abstract Expression and jazz go hand in hand. 

Sonny Clark Quintet 1959
~ Some Clark Bars

by Jim Harris
Q8.  Are there any artists you find particularly inspiring? 

A8.  Hans Hofmann, Arshile Gorky, Roberto Matta and Richard Diebenkorn to name a few.  I like Andy Warhol for his work ethic.  I really think he changed the art world forever. His influence can still be felt today.

Dreams of My Homeland
by Jim Harris
Q9.  Are there any non-artists you find particularly inspiring?

A9.  Robert Quine, a guitarist who played with Richard Hell and Lou Reed. His solo instrumental work is really great. I used to see him walking on the street in New York all the time.  I find his work inspiring.

by Jim Harris

[Full Disclosure: I commissioned and purchased
this work after asking Jim to paint whatever
came to mind while listening to Fats Waller]
Q10.  Please answer a question I didn’t ask.

A10. I believe the Internet has changed the art world forever, it has really changed the playing field. Ten years ago if you wanted to see new challenging art, you would have to go to a brick and mortar gallery in Soho or some other urban destination, now with the Internet, there seems to be an endless flow of brave new exciting art from all over the globe easily accessible at your fingertips. However, I still enjoy the smell of oil paint whenever I walk into a gallery.
Lush Life
by Jim Harris
Q11.  Where can we see (and purchase) your work?


The Duke
by Jim Harris

Thanks for stopping by, Jim. There’s always a beagle to pet and a cup of hot tea at the ready in Lakewood. Don’t be a stranger.


  1. These brilliant pieces of abstract art are so bold and melodious. I could stare at them all day long and still will find something new to explore. A very good interview indeed.

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