He reaches up to straighten the image, which is totally cool because his fingers push the corner right below his name on the lower right-hand corner, “Harris.”
The green and red-orange flecked image of Raven Run Nature Sanctuary is one of more than a dozen — closer to two dozen — paintings by him currently on display at the downtown eatery in the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center complex.
The scenes are familiar to anyone that’s ventured any significant distance beyond New Circle Road: fields and farms, old tobacco barns, hay bales and scenes like that pond at Raven Run, with branches and leaves reflected in the water.
But there is a dreaminess to the images, the soft lines and precise colors we know as impressionism, popularized by artists such as Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.
His artistic style stems in part from falling in love with art through the work of those masters, but also because in a way, the images are how Harris sees the world.
“I tried realism, and it ain’t gonna happen,” Harris says. “I don’t paint well within the lines.”
That’s in part because Harris is living with macular degeneration, an incurable eye condition most commonly associated with aging, though Harris says he has dealt with it his entire life.
“The center of the vision is what goes,” Harris says. “It’s described as like looking through a lot of pinholes. You’re looking a lot through your peripheral vision, so the further I am from someone, I generally look to the right of them, because I’m really focusing out of the peripheral vision of the eye. So the further I am, people will be looking behind them and stuff, and I’ll be looking right at them.”
It has put some limits on the Eastern Kentucky-raised Lexingtonian, like he can’t drive. But he still works two jobs — at the Habitat Restore and as a stage hand at Rupp Arena and the Lexington Opera House, working with light and sound rigging.
And he paints, showing at venues such as Alfalfa and Versailles’ Solaris Art Gallery, and regularly selling work for several hundred dollars a painting.
“When I first started painting, I’d get real close to the canvas and get paint on my nose,” Harris says. “But as I got better and better — depending on whose opinion you’re asking — I still get pretty close, but I’m a bit further away, because I know what I’m doing now.”
Part of what he knows is what sort of paintings people want to buy, which has led him to concentrate on landscapes and horse racing paintings.
“People like the landscape around here,” Harris says. “That’s what they want to take with them. That’s what they want to put in their homes.
“I want the viewer and me to want to walk into the painting. That’s how I do a lot of paintings — something I want to walk into.”
But the art comes from a desire to scratch a creative itch, and despite his visual limitation, oil painting is a medium Harris says comes naturally to him, particularly dealing with elements like color a depth perception.
But he also likes capturing imprecision, invoking Van Gogh’s assertion that there are no perfect lines in nature — “I want to paint what I see, not what I think it should look like.”
Well, to an extent. Contemplating the question of macular degeneration’s impact on his work, Harris notes that it does erode his perception of color. But a lot of his images are fall landscapes, with the fire of autumn leaves, just about to let go of their trees.
“Maybe I am painting stuff I can’t quite see, but with a photograph, I can tell what’s in it,” Harris says. “Maybe that’s why I paint so much colorful stuff.”
Whatever the reason, it results in art people like to see, display and buy, which Harris explains simply.
“I paint what I like to see, and other people like that too.”
Rich Copley: @copiousnotes