An old black-and-white photo was the original inspiration for T.S. Harris’ popular series of paintings of women that are now the subject of a solo show at the Eisenhauer Gallery in Edgartown. Harris, already a successful artist at the time, was struck by a vintage image she discovered online. “I found an old photo of a woman on the beach with her child,” she recalls. “I had been working as an artist, showing in galleries for a while, painting urban landscapes and still life. I wanted to do something different. [The photo] really led to the shift to figurative work.”
That first painting of the woman on the beach led to a series Harris calls “Lost Holiday.” “I started finding all these figures from the past. I thought, ‘How can I bring them to the present? How can I make them feel contemporary, fresh and new, rather than overly sentimental?’”
The solution, as evidenced by her large body of work featuring women on the beach, was to make the images strong and colorful — rendered in a stylized, high-contrast style, and taken out of the realm of the family snapshot to something with a more universal, highly evocative appeal. Her bathing beauties are rendered anonymous by cropping out their heads or hiding them behind floppy sun hats. She finds inspiration in both rediscovered amateur snapshots and Hollywood publicity shots of starlets from a bygone era.
Although the figure is clearly the subject, the women depicted actually represent a very relatable sense of enjoying life in the moment.
“I’m really not interested in exactly who that person was,” says Harris. “It’s not a portrait. I often don’t even know who the person is. I love that anonymity and sense of mystery. The first woman I painted I felt a connection with. You realize that these moments are so fleeting. You just want to remember those wonderful times that come and go so quickly.”
In her artist’s statement, Harris writes of how her paintings, “speak to the central issues of human existence — desire and loss, impermanence and beauty, and the many dimensions of our connections with others.”
Harris’ highly stylized paintings have gained her quite a bit of attention throughout the U.S. Her work has been featured in galleries in California, New York, Boston, Florida, Georgia, and Utah. Recently an image of hers graced the cover of the French journal Beaux Arts. Harris’ work has attracted numerous collectors throughout the country.
This is her fourth year with the Eisenhauer Gallery, and her paintings have proven very popular on the Island. For Harris’ latest series, the artist has drawn inspiration from the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. Although she was born in Las Vegas and raised between there and Carmel, Calif., and currently lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Harris finds a connectivity with the sea and shore of the Vineyard. “It’s tropical, but it also has history,” she says. “There’s a contrast between these old homes and the beach community — that’s something that doesn’t exist in California.”
T.S. Harris’ work is the subject of a solo show at the Eisenhauer Gallery through July 24. Paintings by the artist are always on display at the gallery, and available online at eisenhauergallery.com.