MAJ: Were the Hollywood Locations series plein air, like much of your other work? If not, what technique did you use for this series?
HARRIS: These paintings were done en plein air with the exception of the Hollywood Sign and the Animation Room. While working at Walt Disney Pictures, I painted after work from the rooftops, parking structures and back-lot streets. I used available lighting which sometimes limited my choices of compositions and subjects. It was still enjoyable and challenging. I did a version of the Hollywood Sign from the Griffith Park Observatory, but the angle did not have the view we are familiar with. I found an image of the sign and did another version in the studio combining the lighting of the first attempt and a better angle from a photograph. The Animation Room was done from a series of sketches and color notations. After working in animation for over twenty- three years, I was pretty familiar with the subject. For the animators, it is a second home and became a personal reflection of their personality and tastes. The animation furniture was designed in the 1940’s by K.E.M. Weber. He was also responsible for designing the Animation Building on the Disney Main Lot. As a storyboard artist, I have learned to draw from my imagination. This series has elements added or arranged to enhance the design or pictorial qualities.
MAJ: Your work is impressionist/realist. Why were Degas, Sargent, Fechin and Sorolla early influences?
HARRIS: Our family took a vacation to Washington D.C. when I was ten years old. I loved the National Portrait Museum and from that day on I sought out books on artists known for their portraiture. This was my first exposure to fine art. I spent my first decade of schooling focusing on learning to draw. Fechin’s drawings were unlike anything I had ever seen. The quality of inner contours and modeling are very different. His understanding of textures and paint surface also made an impression. Degas made art seem accessible. He took chances with compositions and subjects. I respond to the casual confidence to his work. Next I found Sargent’s work. At first, his watercolors and sketches caught my attention. I painted in watercolors for several years. I read somewhere not to expect any good results from the first one hundred paintings, so I just experimented with color and practiced mixing paint. In the late 70’s, I found a large book in Spanish on Sorolla. It was full of small color sketches bathed in warm light and cool shadows. California and Spain have similar vistas and color palette. I’ve always respected strong design and abstract principles. As a caricature artist, I look at the cubists for my inspiration. These influences have become as important as a narrative or traditional directions.
MAJ: You’re an avid surfer. How did you make a connection between surfing and painting?
HARRIS: When I was in kindergarten, my teacher gave us a drawing lesson. It was a series of lines; horizontal, vertical, squares, triangles and circles. I became engrossed in the project. I finished the exercises and proudly showed the work to the teacher. She congratulated me for being the first done, looked at my work, and had me go back to work on drawing circles. I feverishly worked on the perfect circle. I lost all sense of time and found an inner source of perfection and purpose. As a child I lived near the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Summers were spent on inner-tubes, mats and finally surfboards. The changing tides, weather and wave conditions take a person many years to fully understand. Learning to surf takes long hours of dedication. Like drawing and painting, once the basics have been studied, surfing becomes natural and intuitive. It is also a feeling of an inner source of perfection. Both surfing and the arts are full of colorful people. They sometimes can become legends for what they love to do.
MAJ: When is your next exhibition?
HARRIS: My next exhibition is July thru August at the Malibu Superior Courthouse. It will be a show of judicial subjects. The courthouse is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except court holidays.