Artist Shakia Harris found her way into art the way many people do — to help make sense of trauma and the world around. She always loved art but an armed robbery changed her life and made painting something essential for healing.
LEO asked Harris via email about her work and process. She shared her very personal path to creation, vulnerability and healing.
LEO: When did you start painting and why did you choose paint as your medium?
Shakia Harris: I loved watching videos of artists painting, and felt like the process was almost magical. I didn’t consider myself to be naturally gifted, and painting seemed to be the most accessible medium to learn on my own.
In 2018, I began painting seriously to cope with PTSD. In January 2018, I was living alone when three men all armed with guns kicked in my back door, destroyed my home, and I was robbed at gunpoint. The ordeal left me in an emotional free-fall. My ‘now’ husband would drive from Louisville to Lexington everyday to stay with me, and that went on for months. There was an extended period of time where I was unable to unlock the front door and enter my apartment without experiencing intense panic attacks. It felt like I was living in a prison, and the prison was my mind.
Your paintings are initially very serene and pretty but the treatment of the paint with the drips and runs gives a different mood? Talk a bit about how you choose your subjects, and then how you compose them in the pieces.
My work is deeply emotional, and painting is a form of meditation for me. There are times when I’m not able to verbalize what I’m going through or the pain I may be feeling in a moment. However, by the end of a painting session, I gain clarity, insight and space from any stress or negativity occupying my mind. As a black woman, I feel pressured to be strong and not show any weakness. My work emphasizes that there is strength and beauty in vulnerability.
When choosing floral subjects I’m most inspired by movement and volume. Whereas with landscapes the color and movement of the sky grabs my attention first. I start most of my paintings with a contrasting underpainting to set the tone for the piece. I’ll choose a bright orange, red, or even pink to make the colors pop, but also to remind myself not to be so serious. At this point I start to compose and decompose the subject using loose brushstrokes, bold, and saturated colors until the painting comes alive.
When is your show and is this your first solo show? What should guests understand before they arrive?
Guests should understand that this body of work is a celebration of human imperfection and resiliency.
What do you want people to understand about you as an artist?
I’m a self-taught oil painter, mother of two, and a special education teacher. I’m extremely passionate about mental health support, especially to mothers and minorities. I hope that as people learn more about me and my journey they realize that participating in the arts is possible for any and everyone. There are days when I may only get 15-30 minutes to paint, and that is okay.I’ve learned that creating little pockets of opportunity daily helped get me to where I am today. Doing a little bit of good each day for yourself and others is extremely powerful.
How did you find outlets for your work in Shelbyville?
In June 2019, I gave birth to my son Kingston. Fast forward a year, and I’m teaching special education virtually to students in Lexington, KY from Shelbyville, without childcare and a wild infant in tow. I felt completely isolated and poured myself into creating. In July 2020, I opened an Etsy shop, and a year later I’d sold about 30 paintings. I began receiving commission requests within two months of opening my store. I was so nervous that I didn’t attach my name to the store until a year later. By the end of 2020, the majority of purchases were made by strangers outside the state of Kentucky. In Summer 2021, I sold in person the first time, and commissions continued to come in. To date my oil paintings are in private collections in 27 cities and 16 states.
Well cared for mental health is essential. It affects our social, emotional, psychological, and even our physical well-being. It is important to LEO that we highlight stories that share with our community how common it is to struggle and that no one is suffering alone. For a list of mental health services check out the Louisville Metro site here: https://louisvilleky.gov/government/office-safe-healthy-neighborhoods/mental-health-support-resources
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