Visual Artist Specializing in painting, mixed media, sculptural books, and art quilts.
Paintings from fall of 2014 - present.
Inner Awesome Tribe by MaryLea Harris, 2016.
My Happy Little Trees and Happy Little Leaves series is meant to be whimsical and colorful. I'm exploring color, texture, and line. I'm focusing on the interplay of "positive" and "negative" space as I reflect on my own positive and negative growth experiences from the past few years. I'm using these trees as a form of art therapy to explore living more simply while celebrating nature, color, texture, and line. I want the viewer to feel happy and playful. I want them to be in the moment and feel joy. Life is short and meant to be celebrated. The title is a small tribute to Bob Ross and his Happy Little Trees he would add to his landscapes, I thought his paintings were magical when I was a little girl.
These are examples of some of my most recent abstract paintings. They are intuitive in nature, filled with hidden personal symbols and painted as a therapeutic art journaling process while listening to music. My abstract work features brightly colored backgrounds created by layering paint and scraping it away with plastic gift cards and disposable hotel room keys. These cards are wonderful tools not only for scraping paint but also serve as a reminder of our consumer-driven society and how quickly we replace nature with man-made materials.
My large Map Series paintings are meant to explore our relationships between physical space, connection, belonging, and our collective personal journeys.
These are examples of my larger tree paintings - they are all acrylic on canvas. They vary in size from 30"x 40", 40"x 60", to 48"x 72".
I focus on trees in my painting and consider my subject matter to be treescapes as opposed to landscapes in the traditional sense. I regard them as hybrids: a process using tree sketches and photos combined with brightly colored backgrounds created by layering paint and scraping it with those fake plastic credit cards that come in the mail. These cards are wonderful tools not only for scraping paint but also serve as an ironic reminder of our consumer-driven society and how quickly we replace nature with man-made materials.
My treescapes have three visual components that connect them: calling attention to detail by showing natural subject matter in its still state, flattening the image into a silhouette, and introducing fluid lines.
As a former printmaker, I admire and am influenced by Japanese Ukyo-e (woodblock) prints for their large flat areas of color and their use of bold outlines. These prints were most prolific during the early 1600s through the late 1800s and capture nature in its still state while emphasizing beauty. I flattened my trees into simplified silhouettes and used contrasting color fields to achieve this look in my own paintings. My favorite season is winter when the bare branches are silhouetted against the sky and layered with snow and ice. This influence is most obvious in the painting Spiritual Sojourn. It has the Asian aesthetic of "less is more" and was a very spiritual painting for me to create.
Eventually, I asked myself how I could push the envelope further and thought of how Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Jasper John (b.1930) used unorthodox painting devices. I created my painting Timberline by pouring and throwing paint on a black gessoed-canvas, and by using a tree branch as my paintbrush to create the illusion of woods.
Mixed Media, Emulsion Transfers, and Sculptural Books
After experimenting in my first computer transfer class followed by a painting class, I became interested in combining the two mediums. I discovered that the layered imagery of contemporary artist Lynne Perrella's assemblages and collages and have a great deal in common with my monoprints from my undergraduate work. Her Jasper Johns-like pieces inspired me to merge my painting and computer transfers in any way that I could imagine. I continue to push myself and test the boundaries of paint, paper, and emulsion film in my mixed media pieces.
During an independent study with Bob Worthy I created a few canvases combining painting and transfers. The most successful one is The Journey Home because it fully incorporates my interests in layering both content and media. This textured canvas combines tea-dyed handmade paper with computer emulsion transfers. This led to a new series based upon this piece. I also created a series of emulsion transfers with photos of trees I took in the woods behind my home. This series sold at my Path is a Circle show to a private collector in 2006. I wanted to create contemporary versions of traditional women's art forms with my quilted wall hanging. Wildwood. Wildwood is hand-beaded, embroidered, and machine stitched; skills passed down to me by my mother and grandmothers. It hangs from a branch found in the woods where the photographic images were taken.
I started experimenting with handmade and altered books a few years ago. With my first effort, I layered an emulsion transfer of trees over the pages of an old artist's manual. On the facing page I created a small diorama by cutting a hole in the center of the book.
My bookmaking venture led me to my final studio course in the M.I.S. program, Ginna Cullen's wonderful bookmaking class, which has transformed my art forever. Books allow me to work through many different ideas while experimenting with various media. The intimate scale allows me to sit quietly and reflect upon each book while holding it in my hands.
I was able to combine many of my past techniques with my Birches book. I layered watercolor paintings with computer text and created rudimentary botanical prints throughout the pages of the book by pounding leaves and herbs with a hammer into the soft Arches paper. I created the cover using scraps of raw canvas from my paintings and stitched monochromatic patterns into the cover with my sewing machine. I finished the book by hand-sewing a Coptic binding.
In Crossing Paths, I was inspired by Jasper Johns' Fools House (1962) to use a rudimentary tool, in this case a small branch, to splatter ink and paint on the pages and then incorporate it into the binding on the cover as Johns did with the broom in his painting. The layered criss-cross pattern of the pages allowed me to paint a neutral color palette on one side of the book while allowing a shock of vivid orange and crimson red to be hidden within the pages.
With the portfolio book, Closer to Home, I combined emulsion transfers and handmade papers with the archetypal symbol of a house. I incorporated stitching with my sewing machine as a symbolic historical connection to the generations of women in my family who sewed to provide income and clothing for their families.
I am the second woman in my family to pursue a post-graduate degree and am reminded of my female ancestors when I have the luxury to create art in my studio. Historically, wealthy women learned needlework as a pastime while poor women sewed out of necessity. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers sewed not for recreation but out of need.
Combining machine stitching and hand stitching with my computer transfers is also meant to remind the viewer that this is a handmade piece of art and not completely computer generated. It is handcrafted like clay pots or woven baskets that also hold the marks of their makers.
The star book format seemed most appropriate for my Mother to Daughter book because its circular shape, when open, symbolizes our inter-connectedness. This was truly a collaborative piece which combined my daughter's artwork with my own. I handed her a paintbrush and a palette of acrylic paint before her second birthday. My mother was my first art teacher as well. My daughter loved painting in my art studio on my easel when she was little. I found the natural freedom of her abstract paintings very refreshing. I scanned one of her paintings on my computer and transferred it onto one of the towels I use to clean my paintbrushes on from my studio. I then cut up the pieces and stitched the sections to paper and bound them into the star book format. It is a gift that I hope to pass along to her someday when she is older.
"Wildwood" art quilt by MaryLea Harris
"The Journey Home", Mixed Media by MaryLea Harris
Detail from Grab Life commission for BOUNCE by MaryLea Harris
Crossing Paths Mixed Media Book by MaryLea Harris
Cover from Crossing Paths, sculptural book by MaryLea Harris
Cover from "Mother to Daughter" Star book by MaryLea Harris