Meet San Francisco based photographer Shawn Ray Harris. Harris’ development as an artist has been of two paths: the first path, exploring the medium itself by making three-dimensional photography while working in manufacturing; and, the second path, using photography traditionally, exploring his personal interests, often with a sense of humor. He recalls an art teacher saying, “Have a job and make art on the side. Eventually, depending on your commitment, one will win out and you will find yourself doing what you were meant to do.” This holds true. Six years ago, Harris began making art full time. His art also had two separate paths that became one: he focuses on making work that is deeply personal and that also pushes the boundaries of photography.
Harris thinks of the camera/photography as a tool, as an in-depth sketch book that captures ideas. He uses a camera, sometimes in a traditional sense, most of the time in tandem with a computer and editing software. Cameras, film, software and technologies will change. He enjoys working through how to best use available tools to capture, record, and translate his imagination. That’s what’s important to him. “Along the way, if I enable myself and a few others to laugh…then I feel I am doing what I was meant to do,”
Harris is one of over 35 artists showing at the annual Artisans Festival, Friday & Saturday, November 28 & 29 at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center. This holiday tradition is one of the longest running festivals in Nevada County and is known for showcasing the exceptional work of regional artisans. This year’s festival takes the term “Art Party” to another level with dozens of new artists, installation art displays, performance art, live music, children’s holiday art activities, and a rustic, bohemian Acoustic Café and Wine Bar. Tickets $3, $5 Weekend Pass, Children 15 and under free. Daily hours are 10am-5pm.
What was the art background of your childhood?
My dad did landscape oil painting on the side, but put it away early on. My mom always doing crafts for sale. Their interests gave me the ability to do my own thing because there were always supplies to tinker with. They definitely put value put on creating things.
When did you recognize a special talent or interest in art? Was it a moment or a process? Can you remember a specific setting?
My interest and talent were always there as long as I remember. I wasn’t interested in other subjects like math. Art always held my interest. It gave me direction. My teachers in mid school and high school saw my talent and interest. They were good at inspiring me to keep doing art as a valuable and pursuable field.
What did your parents say when you told them you were going to be an artist? Was it a moment or a process? Can you remember the specific setting?
I wasn’t a moment. I went to art school because it became the obvious choice. My parents always supported doing that which you love to do. They, probably like other parents, were a bit concerned about me making a living at it, but realized it’s important to do what you love in life.
Who or what were your early creative inspirations?
I saw other students at school who were really good and that was motivating. I wanted that, too. I specifically remember noticing good imagery, Annie Leibowitz especially. She blew my mind with her intelligence, creativity and playfulness. Jerry Ueslmann, who was a traditional dark room photographer. He did some super surreal work and I was amazed he could do that with photography.
Which artists are you following currently?
No one especially. Just my muse. Street artists if anything catches my interest. I have a total respect for spray can art. I am inspired by their ability, the design, the place, the temporary nature with danger in the background. The way they do it makes art available to everyone, not just art people. They put it right in our backyard.
What, besides the obvious, do you like about selling your art?
I like the gauge on how it’s being received. The instant feedback. Being acceptable and being affirmed encourages me to move in further and keep going. The fact that I can make art that is interesting to me and can be sold is pretty fantastic.
What do you think is the role of art in a society?
I hope the role of the artist is to point out and/or comment on society at large. I think I’m still working on my art as a comment on something larger than dressing up in masks and taking pictures of myself. Art is so much more enjoyable, approachable, deeper, broader and bigger than just something for sale.
What have been the biggest sacrifices you’ve made for your art?
I’d say sometimes I am too focused and keep on track at the expense of people around him.
What is the funkiest job you’ve taken to support your art?
One eclectic urban patron of mine had me gold leaf a gorilla skeleton. That was weird. I Pop Arted it.
Anything particularly interesting or striking about your story that you’d like to share?
I am also an oil painter and mixed media artist. I see myself as just an average Joe plugging away.