Dallas design whiz J. Blake Harris reverts to primary vision of art with new collection of painted photos
Some conceptual art is so abstract that it’s hard to recognize any connection to the real object.
J. Blake Harris recently heard about a Deep Ellum gallery-goer who confused a pile of construction materials for a neo-Dadaist sculpture.
"This year, I decided to step back and create some generically iconic stuff — like flowers and fish. Things that are easy to grasp," he says, explaining his new collection of painted photos that are going on display at Gachet Coffee in Victory Plaza.
About 20 years ago, Harris relocated to Dallas from Flagstaff, Ariz. He got his feet wet designing business cards and flyers at Abacus, a now-defunct lesbian-run print shop on Congress Avenue. Abacus was next door to Oak Lawn Records, where Harris slaked his thirst for DJ culture.
Sometimes the album artwork was more interesting than the music — like the New Order record sleeves by U.K. designer Peter Saville.
"There were never any words on the front — just, like, an amazing photograph of a leaf or oxidizing paint. Back then not having the name of the band or the name of album was unheard of," Harris says.
After designing for the company that owns Albertson’s grocery chain, Harris eventually worked at various Dallas agencies as an art director. Now he’s a creative director at IMC2 where he works on many pharmacology campaigns for GlaxoSmithKline, including Apositivelife.com, a site for people living with HIV that has a text-message function to remind people to take their meds.
As a designer, Harris says he’s nitpicker.
"Inattention to detail sets me off — a pixel being off, how photos are compressed or using Internet plug-ins that are only designed for XP Explorer, and the designer hasn’t made sure it works elsewhere, like a Macintosh. That just ends up creating a sucky experience.
Last year, Harris created digital images that were reproduced onto 16-foot mesh-like screens, which Harris then painted over. This year, he’s considerably scaled things down: two-foot by three-foot images.
"These are more intimate than those giant paintings, which were so overwhelmingly big. You had to step back to take it in," he says.
Harris hopes his new works are almost crystal clear: macro-lens close-ups of a goldfish, a seahorse, a pine cone, cactus leaves and gerberas that are then painted over in almost highlight-marker hues of blues and pinks .
"I think people feel frustrated when they don’t immediately know what a work means and they try to find some deep meaning in it. If that’s the case, maybe it’s too complicated," Harris says. "What if we just went back to the bare minimum of what ‘art’ is and work outward from there?"
Harris will have 11 new painted photographs on display at Gachet Coffee in Victory Plaza through Jan. 31.
Opening reception: Jan. 9th at 8 p.m.
Gachet Coffee, 2336 Victory Park Ln.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 2, 2009.