@SPENCERHARRIS63 | WWW.HARRISSPENCER.COM | BROOKLYN, NY | PAINTING
Shorthand is key to the work, because it requires me to slow down and choose only was matters to a piece, in order to allow a space for narrative improvisation.
My name is Spencer Harris and I am an artist from San Antonio, TX working and living in Brooklyn, NY. My works are about symbolic language and engrained memories. A feeling of loss in certain aspects of my childhood, alongside the awareness of my family’s hereditarily high chances for memory loss, led me to analyze the difference between what remains and what has been lost with time. The imagery is rooted in my experience growing up in the south, boyhood and coming of age, pop culture and family influences. Through a process of associative memory recollection I recreate imagery that references both nostalgic and unsettling times on flat and bare surfaces. Calling on personal storytelling, cultural icons, and corporate marketing tools from TV and internet culture I apply iconography onto the surfaces making use of methods varying from photorealist painting to found material collage and stencils.
Garfield Olympia - ink jet print, airbrush & tape on canvas - 2020
Can you talk about the role of humor within your work?
Humor has always been implied by my work, as it is also a big part of my personality. I think personally I use humor as an entryway into understanding my past, things I have been through. Something people find humorous in my work, a cartoon cat, or an overly macho action star, represents a more important theme. Themes that are harder to talk about when thrown in your face, ones that needed a point of entry. Cultural toxicity, depression, anxiety, gender roles, these are all things that I aim to analyze within the works. But in order to be able to look inward at my own experience I needed to look at what I was taught, where I was raised, and what imagery I grew up in and around, culturally speaking.
Drawing of a Shark - acrylic, oil stick & paper collage on canvas - 2020
Much of your work features representations of cultural iconography, many of which can be appreciated by viewers of a particular age. Can you elaborate on this?
I was born in 1993, and the late 90’s and early 2000’s are in my opinion one of the most confusing, mixed up, and random times aesthetically to have been raised in. Cartoons became more surreal and psychedelic, less rooted in narrative and traditional moral value. We were post (major) war and pre social media. We had more free time than ever, and less of an idea as to what to do with it. The internet was booming and growing at astronomical rates. I have not remembered a time in my life where we didn’t have a home computer with internet access. My era was one of the youngest era’s to have to learn how to maintain a separation between actual and online existence, which was both incredibly stimulating but also disorienting and often times felt overwhelming. In my work I consider there to be an excess of visual information that must then be pared down in order to attempt coherence, and this visual language I use is of course pulled from what I was raised with and what I know. And yes a separation of understanding sometimes comes into play when discussing my work with a different generation, but I cannot control that, I can only speak the language I was taught.
Stone Walls - acrylic, airbrush, marker & paper collage on canvas - 2020
Several pieces depict fictional characters such as John Rambo, Snake Plisken, and Jack Burton. Can you talk about your use of hyper-masculine characters?
Many consider my work a critique of masculinity, but I do not sit in a place where I feel I can properly critique it. The best I can do is address my influences directly, take them as they are, but with a critical eye. Big Trouble in Little China was a favorite movie of mine growing up, and I idolized Kurt Russell. My brother and I would watch the VHS of the movie constantly, then make fake guns and knives out of whatever we could find that would hurt each other just enough, and role play fighting and murdering. But now I must look back at the film for what it really is, a problematic and stereotypical action flick, playing into common tropes of damsel in distress needed saving from the ‘foreign’ enemy by the all American man. Hyper masculinity was certainly engrained in my mind at an early age yes, not only with film and video games, but also within the southern familial values that exist where I am from. But I am fortunate to have parents that did not ever press these sort of values, but raised me with an analytical eye and a drive to find my own path. So I take the works as more of a self-analysis of my own image of masculinity.
Burger Lips - acrylic, spray paint & marker on canvas - 2020
How would you describe the aesthetic that you have developed? How are icons, shorthand, and found imagery culminating in your creative voice?
Symbolic language is a main interest of mine. Currently I am focused on how marketing and media utilizes iconography and symbolic representations of ideals to sway consumers. I have lived in a society where I now realize that recurring thoughts or memories are oftentimes tied to a product, or an advertisement or a jingle. Creating this body of work has required a sort of mental emptying out of what remains, in order to create clarity. From piece to piece I build associations and then try to piece them together in order to understand how my train of thought leads back from where I began. But continuing to move through this work has blurred the point from where I began, rather it has become more interesting to wonder where this will end. Shorthand is key to the work, because it requires me to slow down and choose only was matters to a piece, in order to allow a space for narrative improvisation.
Number 8 - colored paper, acrylic, spray paint, newsprint & vinyl sticker on canvas - 2020
How does your work both embrace and manipulate the traditions of painting?
Today, painting is such a broad world of endless possibilities. My work is still generally taking place on stretched canvases, but they are just as much prints, collages, and drawings as they are paintings. Yet I do often come back to using acrylic and oil paints, because often times an image needs to be portrayed in paint, and often times not. I use multi medias because I want to leave space for imagery to be what it needs to be. If it makes the most sense to paint something I will, or create a stencil, or paste something down. I am not really interested in existing in the realm of realism like I used to be, it feels unnecessary to render something that would get the same point across in a different or rather more simple media. If I choose to paint something, it is because maybe as a child that was a recurring image I would paint or sketch. I enjoy artists like Taylor Anton White, who just had a solo at Monica King Gallery, because he allows objects to be manifested how they need to be. I just saw a work of his that had both representative and abstract mark making alongside shapes of fabric and a real gardening glove literally sewn onto the canvas. To make some sort of trompe l’eoil rendering of a glove with drop shadow wasn’t an interest of his. He wanted to include a used gardening glove, and what better way than to attach it straight on.