"Elemental aspirations seemingly just beyond our reach and characteristics intrinsic to being human figure prominently in my paintings. Due to real or perceived barriers, all too often our passions end up in a form far more humble than originally envisioned. Each painting narrates in metaphor and with levity the unavoidable detours born of the human condition as we walk the path of our ambitions. All things being open, meaningful and meaningless, in art, provides fertile ground for me to explore these themes and inspires within me a daily discipline to color and line through dozens of layers, in various applications, of a timeless combination of pigment and oil."
- William Harris
Educated at College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, MI and apprenticed under painter and illustrator, Warren Henry, William is a professional painter living in Southfield, MI. He recently completed residency at Red Bull’s House of Art and has exhibited at galleries throughout the state of Michigan.
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE ARTIST
What is currently your favorite:
Work of Art: “Family Dollar”, Justin Mortimer
Piece of Advice: Look outside of yourself more than within.
What are you looking forward to most about the upcoming exhibition: Transitions?
I'd like to see and hear how people project their own transitional moments in life onto the works. The subject matter is so open-ended and applicable to each piece that I imagine people will be able to see themselves, in some fashion, relating to certain expressions and scenes depicted.
How does your work fit into that concept?
Much of my work in this exhibit shows figures, quite literally, in transition, morphing from one expression or mental state into another. Along with the fragmented and/or abandoned structures, I try to piece these together to give a sense of transition, of repurposing decayed elements of the city into new, individualistic expressions.
Was there an artist you admired that inspired you to be an artist yourself?
My uncle, Warren Henry, was a painter and illustrator, and he certainly inspired me early on. I loved watching him work, and occasionally, he'd allow me to work on a few of his pieces. He taught me a lot about drawing and jazz (he was a jazz drummer as well). I always loved drawing as a kid, but mostly, that was of cartoon characters. Watching him draw people from real life was intimidating at first, but ultimately, more inspiring than anything.
What themes do you tend to pursue in your work?
I don't usually seek to create a theme, but as far as this current work is concerned, one artist I always came back to was Agnes Martin. Her heartfelt pursuit of perfection, the transcendental, and overcoming her own limitations linked to these transitional ideas as a theme for me. Pursuits of perfection, ambition, logic, love, all core things having to do with the human condition are inspiring to me and tend to show up in my work.
Where are you finding inspiration for those themes these days?
Definitely the art work of others. I love the resurgence of figurative art these days, in particular. People from differing backgrounds, all over the world, finding new & old ways and materials to reflect today's individual and societal issues is very inspiring to me. There's something perfectly complete, both modernly gritty and traditionally beautiful, about figurative oil painting, so those who excel in it inspire me to do the same.
Is there a single habit that you strongly believe contributes to your success as an artist?
Always to be doing something as an artist. It's simple, and maybe obvious to most, but it's so true. It's so easy to get demoralized with your own work that it'll make you want to stop. If the painting isn't working, then draw; if the drawing isn't working, then paint; if neither are working, then writes ideas down that you'll want to draw or paint later. Those notes have been just as valuable to me at times as a sketch book or even good day of painting.
How do you feel about the art market / scene in Detroit? Have you seen a shift in the last few years?
The Detroit art scene is very exciting. You have a strong mix of terrific, life-long Detroiters and newer voices adding unique and powerful elements to make the city even better. Obviously, we're living through challenging times economically, but Detroit's art scene undoubtedly is a light that's attracting and projecting more positive energy than negative.
Do you collect anything?
I do have a small oil painting collection, but it needs to grow : )