Kenny Harris: Figures in Interiors

What goes on inside the minds of artists? “Interior Worlds” shares a glimpse.

Artist Kenny Harris has an extensive body of work focused on interiors—paintings of light-filled rooms in time-worn spaces inspired by his travels in Europe, particularly Italy, and more recently, Ireland. (Check out the November/December 2021 issue of Artists Magazine for a collection of his interior works.) In 2015 through 2017, however, Harris wanted to work on finding his voice in portraiture.

“For this body of work, I turned my inquiry from the depiction of interior spaces to the interior worlds of my peers in Los Angeles,” Harris writes in the artist statement. “I have chosen my creative friends, showing them engaged in activities or contemplation, inviting the viewer to participate in their quiet moments.”

Painting Portraits and Figures
Mona (oil on canvas, 48×54)

Creative Contemplation Becomes Its Own Work of Art

“The environments that the figures inhabit play a major role in the paintings by supporting the psychological space of the sitter—sometimes the figures even merge with a background or vibrate against it,” Harris says. “I was approaching the portraits with experimentation in mind, exploring the genre in my own voice but without pre-determined methods. The needs of each composition demanded various technical approaches; hence, the variety of paint application and scale.”

“I attempted to create portraits that evoke the human experience through a textured surface which is at once illusion and object.”

The series, featuring Harris’s artist friends in settings that are significant, was part of the artist’s MFA work. In Mona and Inara, he wanted the viewer to be able to participate in the painting—without the sitter staring back. “Mona is a photographer and the viewer finds her editing photos for an upcoming book,” he explains. “Inara is a singer-songwriter, whom I show in contemplation, listening at her piano. I was striving for a certain excellence in these portraits to reflect my admiration for them as artists.”

Painting Portraits and Figures
Inara (oil on canvas, 48×36)

Revealing the Human Condition

For the piece Ordinary Acts, Harris’s friend and mentor, Luis Serrano, gave him a prompt to create a piece based on the human condition. “I considered this as it applied to me and what I was grappling with at the time: the balance between my conception of the artist’s life versus the everyday, ordinary tasks that make up so much of life,” Harris says, and references a quote from Sir Thomas More: “The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”

Painting Portraits and Figures
Ordinary Acts (oil on canvas, 54×48)

There are other memento mori in the painting as well. Can you find the skull? (Hint: It’s stretched like the one in Hans Holbein’s 1533 masterpiece, The Ambassadors.)

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