Christopher E. Harrison, Masquerade II, 2014, Plaster, Collage on Chicken Wire, 11"x14"
Christopher E. Harrison is a Twin Cities artist who is featured in Altered Esthetics’ new exhibition, Turbulent Identities, on view at The Southern Theater from 3/3 - 4/2/2017. All are invited to the Opening Reception on Friday, 3/3, from 5:00-7:00 pm. RSVP on Facebook.
You work in several mediums. Can you tell us more about the materials you use and how you choose them?
The materials I use vary depending on the piece. I try to stick to natural components like tempera paints, plaster, paper, inks, etc. I do this because I want to build sustainable materials into my practice, which then harken back to the organic themes that are prevalent in my work. I do use acrylic paint which is an exception because of its low toxicity and quick drying time.
In addition to making art, you also work as an arts educator. How do these two roles influence each other?
As an educator, providing the community with the service of discovering and appreciating the arts in its many forms is very important to me. Its an intellectual as well as an aesthetic benefit to society that we all as citizens should strive to uphold. I’m always learning from being in the space around great art and processing this information to give to patrons and this in turn informs my practice in the studio.
As of recently, you have described a change in your approach moving from dimensional/figurative art to a more non-objective, biomorphic/organic form of art. The works featured in Turbulent Identities demonstrate your earlier style, can you elaborate on what inspired you with these works? Do these themes show through your current works?
There’s many inspirations inherent in my work, whether it be politically, socially or environmentally based. Although the earlier Masquerade series pieces are figurative as compared to my current work, the thread for me still deals with the ideal of “otherness,” meaning that I create around images that could be seen as outside of the what is considered normal or obvious. As a person of color, this is a concept that I live with on a everyday basis. So whether it’s through my older figurative works or abstract forms I use diverse optics like collage or disparate materials to tell those stories of differences coming together to create new experiences of seeing the world.
Christopher giving a tour at the Walker Art Center. Photo by J. Wren Supak.
Cultural appropriation is the central theme to Turbulent Identities, what is cultural appropriation to you?
I define cultural appropriation as recognizing an aspect(s) of an alternate culture and adapting or absorbing it into the greater, more dominant culture for the greater culture’s own benefit, so much so that the origins of this aspect becomes minimized or forgotten. For Turbulent Identities, I feel that the show’s theme has artists challenge cultural definitions through their work and explore what a true diverse world looks like.
Do you believe it is possible to appreciate a culture without appropriating it? What advice would you give to humans unsure of how they can appreciate a friend, colleague or partner’s culture without appropriating?
I do believe you can show culture appreciation as long as the history and origin of the culture are realized and shared in a respectful manner, even to the point where aspects can be borrowed to create some more interesting. The advice I would give is to always reference the source first. Knowledge is the greatest teacher. Learn what you can from people or information that’s available so you’ll know what is celebratory or taboo. If some cultures hold their identities as more sacred than others, respect that by leaving it alone!
Who are some of your favorite authors, artists or directors that address these complex ideas of identity and cultural exchange?
I enjoy James Baldwin’s writing, in particular Native Son, a great tome for exploring the journey of a Black man’s self discovery. I’m also inspired by Jean Michel Basquiat’s work for it’s in-your-face expressive visual sense of urban urgency that is still potent today. I’m also a fan of artists Joan Miro whimsy, Romare Bearden’s grittiness, and indigenous arts from the Pre-Columbian era, Asia and Africa.
Christopher E. Harrison, Constellation Conception, 2016, Acrylic, tempera on raw canvas, 6' x 6'
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions and/or projects we should know about?
I have a show coming up in July at the Nemeth Art Center in Park Rapids, MN that will showcase my abstract art based on the themes of my creating an imaginary alien race.
Where can we find and follow you online?
My website is http://www.harrisonartstudio.net
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/charrchr
Twitter - https://twitter.com/@ceh8ball
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview written by Shivani Vyas, edited by Sarah Kass.