Pamela Harris

Posts in the Art Category

We Are Sorry December 12, 2016

Crushed. Devastated. I went to bed the night of the election long before results were in. At 3:00 in the morning I woke up, or really, Ginger woke me up. When I checked the NY Times on my phone and saw all that red on the USA map, I waited for my phone to fully wake so the map would turn blue.

It’s a call to creative arms. I am not one of those saying, “Let’s see how he does.” He’s shown who he is and for me that’s enough. Oprah once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

A surprising side effect is I feel reckless. Creatively, that’s good. Sometimes I wonder if I sand off the ragged bits in my work where an unfinished me lurks.

Over the years I’ve been working on a large installation and post-election I’ve discovered a fervor to continue it. In 1992, officials in Hannover, Germany, asked the artist Bruce Nauman to propose a Holocaust Memorial. His proposal was to create a sign that said, “We are sorry for what we did, and we promise not to do it again.” Nauman eventually decided against doing it, but his proposal stayed wth me. My stepfather is a Holocaust survivor, and that’s part of it, but so is the idea of remorse.

It’s too early to speak coherently about what I’m doing because a ton of images are flying around in my head. I do know it’s my way of protesting.

In 2008 I had an 11” x 17” tablet made (photo above) courtesy Dawn Carmilia and Visual Graphics Systems, and slightly changed the language Bruce Nauman proposed to make it mine. Then I made a maquette of what I want it to look like, did some drawings in Mr. Nauman’s style, and began amassing my own elements, i.e. paintings, drawings, word pieces, etc. The goal is to install it in a large gallery space, where I don’t know yet. I’m back working on it and that feels great.

Sergio Sanchez October 29, 2015

In my last post, I mentioned that I found a wallet walking Ginger. It was early in the morning, really early, with the sun just coming up. We were walking near Spring St. and I was half asleep, my eyes absently following the curb. Ginger stopped to sniff a crack in the sidewalk and after a few moments a wallet registered near the gutter.

The wallet was small, designer, the kind that has slots for credit cards and a license, but no opening for money. Maybe you'd carry your money in a clip or cram it into your front pocket. Or maybe you don't need money anymore because of plastic and Apple money and bitcoin.

I picked the wallet up and took a quick look through it. There was a hotel card, a lot of cards for tattoo shops, and then I saw a license. The name on it was Sergio Sanchez and in the picture he had a nice enough face. Ginger and I had a walk to get to, so I put the wallet in my bag, we went to the dog run, and about an hour later we came home. Once she was settled I did a quick search and found many Sergio Sanchez's. I googled his address and a few clicks later I found him.

He was an artist and tattoo artist. I found a few email addresses for him and by the time I made a cup of coffee he had exuberantly written back. He couldn't believe I found it. He was midtown at a hotel and came right down, and after he gave me a huge hug he patted his pockets, like he was looking for money to give me a reward. I didn't want one or need one - I've been mugged and what sucked wasn't just the pain of losing my wallet but losing all the little irreplaceable things I kept in it. Plus, I loved that wallet. I didn't ask Sergio how he felt about losing his wallet, or if he liked his wallet, or how and when it went missing, but I do know that if you lose a wallet you want it back.

The address for this blog is a tag in my emails, so he must've checked it out while we were emailing. He liked the blog and loved Ginger's pictures, and for a thank you he wanted to do a drawing of her. Though I genuinely didn't want anything, how do I say no to that? Could I say no to that?

He seemed like a sincere guy and I know how gratitude in the moment can make you want to give the moon to whomever you want to give it to. I also know that time passes and life gets in the way despite best intentions. I had no expectations whatsoever, and I was surprised when a week or so later he emailed me looking for a hi-res Ginger picture. I sent him a few, still with no expectations. Which is why I was completely shocked and elated when, two months later, his wife emailed me for my address. He had finished the drawing.

The day I found his wallet I checked out his website and saw he had done some gorgeous animal tattoos. Really beautiful. I was on my way out when the drawing showed up and Joe wanted to let me open it. Though I got home very late that night I couldn't wait to see it and carefully opened the package. When I did, my eyes teared up.

The photo above doesn't do the drawing justice. Sergio captured Ginger's essence in his drawing, her angst and excitement and vulnerability and quirky self. His drawing is truly of our dog. It's so beautiful in person and I can't wait for it to come back from the framer so I can hang it.

My tears, though, were also because I was so moved that Sergio Sanchez took the time to do this drawing. He did it with love, too, which says everything about this guy. Humanity can feel like it's cracking and crumbling, to the point where I have to knuckle down and pray for faith. The drawing is a gift in so many ways. Sergio Sanchez, I thank you deeply.

New Show July 12, 2015

It's been going well in the studio. I go through spurts where every drawing works out and I've been in that process.

It actually never goes not well. My attitude is however it's going is how it's going. I've been doing it long enough to get satisfaction from it, no matter what. Writing is much more frustrating. Though also immensely satisfying.

Over the last few months I've had some new people coming through my studio. I'm in a show that opened yesterday at the Amy Simon Gallery and it seems to be going well so far. I like showing and it's nice to be back out there. The show will be up through August.

The East Village July 5, 2015

I miss seeing the old punks around.

Up until maybe five years ago, I could walk through the East Village and see some elder wreck coming up the street, hair akimbo, make-up a mess. I loved it, since they were often the original squatters, the souls living in rotting apartments who brought an organized lawlessness to the East Village back when you could still be lawless in New York City.

That's when I came to NYC, in the '80s, when the East Village had a punk music and heroin and an established personality. Walking near Avenue A to get my hair cut back then I'd pass broken buildings with fronts covered in plywood. Junkies and crackheads would slip in and out from behind the plywood, which meant a shooting gallery or cop spot was back there.

At night I'd head east to visit friends, to see music or art, to find trouble, and I'd pass Keith Haring graffiti mixed with 'Die Yuppie Scum.' Galleries would open on blocks that were totally blown out, wastelands of broken glass, dead couches, an occasional torched car. Openings would be packed, people in the streets all through the night, the same faces showing up for whatever art thing was going on night after night.

The first apartment I ever looked at was a little south of there, just below East Houston Street. I got chased north by a crackhead with a machete. A homeless woman spit in my face on Avenue C. I didn't want to live in the East Village.

Then, like slow motion, Christodora House, on Avenue B near Thompson Square Park, was converted to high-end residential living. The Thompson Square Park riots came. Gentrification became real.

For a few months in the mid-90s I lived on First Street near Avenue A. Though east of me wasn't the safest place at night, change was coming swiftly from the west. Mostly in the form of bulldozers, since everything that surrounded me there is now gone.

I've almost always lived downtown and west, in places zoned more for commercial than residential. Once in a while I'll see a few old punks over here, maybe Patti Smith, maybe a Talking Head or two. My favorite is a tall, gaunt man, 60-ish, always in a black suit with a blue button-down shirt. He wears pancake make-up that's perfectly applied and has the face of a saint framed by long dark hair. He's quite stooped and now uses a cane, and he looks right out of an Edward Gorey cartoon. My heart always warms when I see him coming.

Change is inevitable and when it's from within it always takes me to a better place. I don't know what's next for this city given how now one neighborhood blends into the next with a bank on every corner, a chain restaurant mid-block and a new high rise residential complex that no one seems to live in. I'm glad I got to experience NYC as where you had to be if you wanted to do anything creative.

There is one change happening that's a throwback with a twist: when Joe takes Ginger out in the middle of the night they walk past a park in Soho. In it, nodding on benches are clean cut 20-something white men who, in the '80s, you'd say look like yuppies. Junkies? Homeless? Evicted from Christodora House?

The other evening we were coming home from our after dinner walk and as we neared our block we passed two elderly men in suits. They were Claes Oldenburg and Ellsworth Kelly. I leaned to Joe and said, 'Holy shit' and turned around for a second look. Claes Oldenburg lives next door and I see him often, but to see them together was thrilling. It felt like what old New York must have felt like, two art icons casually walking and talking, maybe heading to dinner given their lack of rush yet sense of purpose. CO must be in his 80's and EK is at least 90, and what stood out was their complete lack of self-consciousness.

Oftentimes, when I see a celebrity on the street, no matter how un-self conscious they appear you can sense their antennae looking for a camera. Claes Oldenburg and Ellsworth Kelly were oblivious. Granted, paparazzi may not stalk them, but it was like seeing Mickey Mantle walk by. Oldenburg's and Kelly's art changed art. They may slip around the city anonymously, but their impact is tremendous.

Top image:

Ellsworth Kelly Colors for a Large Wall 1951 Oil on canvas mounted on sixty-four joined panels 240 x 240 cm The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of the artist, 1969

Bottom image:

Claes Oldenburg Clothespin, 1976 (Philadelphia)

The Highline December 6, 2013

(photos by Pamela Harris except for the second photo which is anonymous)

About a week after our dear Opal passed we went outside and aimlessly headed north. Near 12th St. we went west and ended up climbing the stairs to the Highline. The Highline is a gorgeous park built amidst what used to be elevated railroad tracks. It runs for about 20 blocks (with more to come) through Chelsea.

Years ago I used to show with a gallery on West 22nd St. and the dealer lived above the gallery. We would sometimes climb onto her fire escape to be eye level with the tracks, which were ten feet away. We could barely make them out under a tangle of grasses, plants and flowers, a wilderness here at the edge of the city. The street below was a gay cruise spot and the dealer and I would contemplate the beauty of this deserted expanse to nowhere, and then look down and watch a guy get a bl*wjob. (I'm not a prude. The server bounces anything explicit.)

Over the past decade every empty lot, gas station, taxi stand and undervalued building in Chelsea got razed or rebuilt. In much of the new construction, the architects seem uniquely interested in manipulating the skin of the building via undulations or unique materials. These buildings also have organic footprints and are constructed out of a mishmash of parts that randomly jut wherever. Some of these buildings are spectacular in how they seamlessly transition from the outside to inside and show the architects complete vision down to the screws. In other buildings, especially residential buildings, the transition is rocky and results in a lot of wasted space where odd angles create useless corners, foyers that are larger than bedrooms, or awkward unusable space between dining and living rooms.

One building I love is the new New School building on Fifth Avenue in the village. It looks like something dropped from the sky and gouged out part of its facade. I never tire of looking at it, a test for a building's staying power. The skyline in Chelsea is all new and chaotic, an architectural free for all that has no rhythm yet. It reminds me of the lines of people I see outside the passport office around the corner where hip hop stands next to Yiddish Theater which stands next to Spanish telenova who's next to Brooklyn hipster in front of the Burmese monk who's robe clashes with the Muslim's Keffiyeh. The only thing this line has in common is how oblivious each person is to whomever is next to them. That's how Chelsea's skyline feels, like each building is waiting its turn for attention so it can do its business then get out of there.

I miss the dog. We're getting another for sure, but today it's raining and Opal would balk at going out so we'd all pile into the living room and eat snacks and watch hours of TV.

Our internet went down for the week of Thanksgiving. Ironically, I was working on a post about how electronics don't last and how connectivity can be temperamental despite an absolute reliance on both. The post started in my head a few months ago, when I read Sheryl Sandberg's book, 'Lean In.' In it she has a throwaway line about Facebook's culture, how the goal there was to make something 'good enough.' Not great, not perfect, but good enough. I get that products can be improved upon and, given how fast technology changes, being the first one in matters. But to me 'good enough' means it's not ready, it's not finished, it still needs work. Right as I was putting self righteous fingers to keys, we lost our connection. For almost a week. And that's what I think of good enough.

Galleries and Me November 25, 2013

(photo above by Henry Chalfant)

Since May I've been leaving most of the galleries I work with. This weekend I took my work out of the last one on my list. My work is changing, their programs have been changing and contextually we no longer fit.

I've been exhibiting work since subway cars looked like the photo above, and it's not something I take for granted. Working with a gallery can be great, being represented can be, too, plus they sell work. I was never a great fit with the galleries I just left and was staying out of fear, out of ego, and a tween of laziness. I've been too busy to sit and really figure out what I want, and it's time. It feels great to have these exits behind me.

Right now I don't know what comes next. The art world has changed in every way possible since I started showing and selling work and I don't know what the next right step is. I'm going to see some friends over the holidays, see some shows and get through a deadline. It's so funny how life goes. Ten years ago I would've thought I was crazy to leave galleries and today I'm really excited to not know what's coming.

(photo of the meat packing district by Christopher Payne)

I've been in a bad mood about the art world for a few years now. I love money, I love fashion and I love art, but I don't love the way they interact. Gavin Brown was recently interviewed by Nicole Phelps at and said it well:

What do fashion people get wrong about the art crowd? And vice versa?

The fashion crowd doesn't get anything right about art. The two tribes speak two entirely different languages. You are either on one side or the other. This is a particularly interesting week to think about the difference: the punk Met Ball and Frieze Art Fair. Both sides using the other to dress themselves up as something they are not, and destroying something essential about themselves in the process. The punk Met Ball was particularly hideous. The final enslavement of one of the most powerful postwar social movements. Reduced to Sarah Jessica Parker's fauxhawk. A sad and accurate diagram of the state of our culture. A crowd of shiny morons turning reality inside out so it matches the echo chamber of their worldview. Would Sid have been invited? What would he have thought? Is this what Mark Perry meant by "This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band"? The English art schools of the sixties and seventies—the cradle of this creative movement—must be writhing in their supply-side straightjackets. It only emphasizes to me that fashion—whatever that is—sees art (and artists) as an idiot-savant gimp, and they keep them on a leash, begging for glam snacks. And fashion follows along behind art, picking up its golden shit.

How different is the art world from the fashion world, in the end? Hasn't all of the madness around collecting, and the obsession with which artist is up and which artist is down, eclipsed the art?

I see the fashion world with my nose pressed against the window, but from that perspective it seems dynamic, fast, frothy, and 99 percent empty. But that really isn't so different from most cultural worlds—including the art world. There are creative and talented people doing incredible things at the heart of each arena. But both fashion and art suffer—in different ways—from the crushing weight of capital. And in this sense, they have both been co-opted to do capital's bidding—as it reaches into every corner of the globe. Wherever you find an LVMH store, a brand-name contemporary art gallery will surely be very close by. The right bag and the right painting are the clearest ways possible for those with money to recognize each other.

Pitbull Monday on Tuesday April 23, 2013

I'm very happy that people are signing up to follow my blog. Yesterday's post took precedence over Pitbull Mondays; it was hard to write and when I finished it I just wanted to get it up there. For quite a few years I've been working on a book about my past and addiction and getting clean, and quite a few people in my life, especially some of my professional relationships, don't know my history. Or I don't think they do, yet I could be way off since they know my work and the themes that run through it. Yesterday's post put it out there and what was nice was, after I posted it I didn't think much about it. I've come to accept my history for what it is - simply my history - and I'm no longer attached to the story of my past. My past is the past, my present the present and I wouldn't have what I have today if I hadn't had what I had then.

Everyone thinks their dog is the prettiest and greatest and will get into the best kindergarden and maybe be president but mine really is and will be. She'll chase a ball now and a week ago wouldn't. She learned big dog moves by playing with big dogs and is trying them out now at the dog park. The weather is warm and she won't come in the house, so getting her upstairs has become a royal tug o'war. Our next door neighbor is Claus Oldenburg, the artist who has a show up at MoMA, and his front door and garage has become her favorite poop spot. It's like the dog is leaving him a congratulatory gift and all I can say is Mr. Oldenburg is very cool when he sees me bent over cleaning his driveway.

Jon Waldo in Chicago April 10, 2013

(photos by Jon Waldo)

A very good friend, Jon Waldo, has a show opening this Friday in Chicago at Linda Warren Projects. I love his work and how he talks about it:

On Sundays, when my father brought me to church, I could rarely stay focused on the mass. Instead I'd stare at the stain glass windows and paintings. The canvases usually contained figures placed centrally, without context, floating on monochromed fields of gold. The Nave seemed to flash and float with color and light.

I grew up Jewish in an Irish Catholic town and used to go to Midnight Mass with my friends. I'd sit in the pew and look at the paintings and stained glass, awed. It was a visual explosion, so foreign; it was storytelling about death. Jon brought me right back to it.

When I draw I look for objects that resonate. The subject of each stencil are not static because they can be recreated at any time, free of contextual restraints. I found that memories could be transformed by repeatedly recalling recollections.

See why I love the guy and his work?

A friend, Collin, who had studied theology with a specific interest in Native Americans told me that I was essentially doing what the Shamans do - traveling back in time to fix the past and change the future.

For me, there is a simplicity about my subject matter and the relatively uncomplicated manner in which the subjects of my paintings are depicted. As a native New Englander, I have long been interested in the 19th-century Transcendentalist thinkers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who called attention to and celebrated the extraordinary nature of the ordinary.

These paintings exude the pop art feel of 1970s rock-album cover designs, but without any of the self-conscious irony that has become so common in a lot of contemporary art that makes such references. Responding to the tenor of these times, I believe my newest paintings express a certain sense of urgency about just how worthwhile⎯or necessary⎯it is or might be right now to pay attention to and recognize the value, in many senses of the word, of everyday experiences and the most familiar objects and events of daily life.

If you're in Chicago and see his show, let me know what you think. If you want to see more of his work,