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Word & Image: Tim Harriss, 50

Artist, musician, art handler at VMFA.



"My fascination with older paintings stems from my experience, or lack thereof, from going to VCU art school [in the late 1980s]. A lot of the teachers I had seemed like guys who came up in the abstract expressionism period, they didn’t know much or care much about technique. Many had chips on their shoulders because they didn’t make it in New York. I was quickly disillusioned with that. I wanted to learn how to mix paint, use a color wheel, all the stuff that made good paintings to me. I stayed a year and a half, and probably just didn’t belong there, I was so into playing music. But I’ve talked to a lot of VCU people around that time who had the same experience.

"I was always drawn toward the Renaissance and periods that showed technical skill. Working at [the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts] for past three and a half years, I’ve had access to curators and conservation people who are really great and willing to teach me the stuff I want to know. I get to ask them about materials, techniques, the histories of things.

"For my new paintings, I started using Photoshop filters and changing things. I’m fascinated with idea of using the same color palette, the same textures and the feel of those old paintings, and somehow modernizing them. For the process, I’ll select an image I like — the original pieces are from famous artists. I’ll have thumbnails of John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt, Petrus Christus — pretty old, famous paintings. This big one is David’s “Portrait of Madame Recamier.” It’s a painting that’s been abstracted before by Rene Magritte, we even have a sculpture after that [at the museum].

"I like to work in the same format, roughly same size. I’ll run the image through filters in Photoshop multiple times over the course of a week to get an effect I like, tweaking the parameters to where I like the composition. Then I’ll paint that. So I am copying a manipulated version. I’m into midcentury modernism, and I’ve made the frames for all these, so it really all boils down to an aesthetic. If you look closely, you can see elements of the original piece.

"There are 12 pieces in the new show which took me just over a year, working evenings and weekends. I’ve learned how to carve out time for my art. My band Kepone is playing again, we’re playing Hardywood Brewery on May 14 and just did a sold-out show with Municipal Waste at the Broadberry that was really fun. We’d love to work on new material, but we’re all older guys with families. So it’s a juggling act.

"Making paintings to me is so much like making music. The reason why I do it is to create something that I would like to see or hear myself."

Tim Harriss’ art opening will be held Friday, April 15 at 7 p.m. in the Eric Schindler Gallery, 2305 E. Broad St. in Church Hill. The show will be up for a month.

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