Mai Harris is an artist with a drive to connect the art community in her area - Murfreesboro, TN. She recently started Fervent Fusion, which currently connects artists with exhibition and performance opportunities at no cost. She is working to expand Fervent Fusion in the future even further for artists, so if you are an artist in the Middle Tennessee area, you will definitely want to follow her here: Fervent Fusion on Facebook.
She is not only an artist to me, but also a friend. We met over shared ideas, and found that we had a lot of the same passions for the artistic community. I am so happy to share her work with you!
What does Creativity mean to you?
To me, creativity really just means being resourceful. Knowing where to find things and how to put them together - be it physical objects, ideas, people, colors, clothes even! For my own work, the creativity lies in the different images and ideas I gather to incorporate into paintings. But I also enjoy deciding which artists and musicians to bring together for a show. The show itself becomes a work of art for me, and the creativity lies in deciding how each event will flow and what people fit into that well together.
How do you expand yourself creatively?
By expanding my catalogue of references. I draw from fashion, music, other visual art, and from life experiences. So I expand by going out there and finding new looks, new bands, new images, or I just go out and have an adventure.
Were you creative as a child? If so, how have you evolved through the years? Did anyone encourage you, especially?
I was always drawing and making things as a child. Around 11 or 10 I decided to really try and learn how to draw realistically and that continued on into high school and eventually translated over into painting. It is always amazing to think about the different ways I have evolved as an artist. It has gone directions I never thought it would.
I guess the biggest evolution from child to adult has been that I never painted as much as a kid or a teenager. I would always just draw. Painting started when I was about 15 or 16 and I’ve never looked back. Only this year have I started entertaining the idea of trying some new drawing mediums.
The most profound encouragement I ever received came from a stranger. My aunt was critically ill in intensive care over New Year’s Eve when I was 14. We pretty much camped out in the waiting room for 2 or 3 days. There was a portrait artist there to distract people and left their spirits for a short bit. She drew my little cousin’s portrait while I watched, and she asked me questions like what I wanted to do when I was done with high school. When it came up that I was an artist and wanted to go to art school, the woman said she could just tell I was an artist by the way I dressed and even though she had never seen my work she just knew somehow it was my destiny. I suppose it may have stuck with me because my aunt ended up passing away the next day, but that conversation felt so monumental. Like amidst all this darkness and sadness of the situation, some kind of higher power was trying to give me a light….some kind of direction to cling to despite the trauma of that time.
What inspires you most?
Passion. I can be inspired by anything done in the name of extreme passion, or anything that evokes passion in the viewer/listener.
What turns you on creatively?
Life, fashion, music, art….I’ve always had a creative lust for mermaids. I would say the beginning of the path that lead me to where I am today artistically started with painting mermaids. I am drawn to them because they are the mythical embodiment of sex, beauty, and also a certain sense of mischief and mystery. As I said, I am so inspired by passion – and there are few things more passionate than the idea of sex – the way sex is incorporated into rock n’ roll, art, and fashion. I also like the idea of mermaids collecting things, and I am a collector of things. We all are, but to me the best kind of collecting is that of “frivolous” objects – clothes/shoes/jewelry you don’t really need but are for your own pleasure, vinyl records (the most practical music collection would be digital, but it isn’t as special as vinyl), and knick-knacks that don’t serve a single purpose other than making you happy.
My collector’s spirit was really validated by this documentary: Treasures of Long Gone John. It’s about a famous art collector who used to frolic in the L.A. area, but he has since moved elsewhere. First of all, that documentary was the first time I saw so many of my favorite artists move and speak – before I had only read what they had to say. Second, he turned his home into a museum of art and oddities. It’s my dream home.
Do you have any gratefulness practices?
Yes, I am a strong believer in the law of attraction. So I bask in gratitude of all that I have (which is a lot) as often as I can, and I intensely visualize all that I would like to gain before going to sleep each night.
Do you daydream often? If so, does it inform your work?
Always. I live in a dream world, and it is a huge source for my work. My work is very dream like, so I feel a responsibility to stay in a dream-like state. Also, as I mentioned above, I believe in the law of attraction. I am happier sometimes living in my own world, and the happier I stay – the happier the world around me becomes. And the more I focus on what is most ideal for me, the more it will manifest itself in reality.
How does a relationship and/or children affect your creativity?
Well my fiance is a musician, so it is helpful at times and annoying at others, ha ha. It is helpful when we can relate to each other’s creative problems or triumphs with sincere empathy or when we can give each other advice. But the advice thing gets us both into trouble sometimes. We don’t always take each other's constructive criticisms well. However, I could never be with someone who wasn’t passionate about some kind of creative expression. It is such a huge part of my life, I wouldn’t want to share my life with someone who couldn’t truly share that part too. He does give me useful suggestions on my painting, and when it comes to Fervent Fusion, he bridges the gap between my visual art world and the music world. Tells me what music gear is when bands are asking me about it, ha ha.
As for my daughter, juggling motherhood and a career is always a struggle. Juggling an art career and motherhood is a whole new monster because you do so much work from home. It is really hard to find the balance - and making your family understand that there’s a difference between when you’re home and able to give them your undivided attention, and when you’re home and working. I do the best I can. Some days are better than others. I often feel if I had the money to put Ariel into pre-school full-time I would get a lot more accomplished as far as maintaining relationships with local galleries and business owners. It’s hard to make the rounds with a little one in tow.
Is there a Creative, past or present, that you would give just about anything to work with? Who, and why?
Sooooo many. Frida Kahlo, duh. There are a lot of musicians I’d love to do album art work for or live painting for their shows, like….LP, Madonna (old Madonna, back in the eighties, not new Madonna - it’d require a time machine) Cyndi Lauper (with or without the time machine), Blondie, Joan Jett, Lady GaGa, Florence and the Machine, I could go on and on. Female singers float me through life. I just can’t relate to a male singing voice in the same way. With female singers it transcends to this deeper level, which is necesarry for my art work. I should also mention LaLuz, Valerie June, and Dessa. That partially covers by arting music playlist. Also, my contemporary visual influences: but I should add I don’t want to work with them because I think they are way too good for me. But I would love to meet them: Mark Ryden, Natalia Fabia, Camille Rose Garcia, Brandi Milne, Liz McGrath, Anthony Ausgang, Ray Caeser, Lori Earley, too many others to name and damn near anyone else in Hi-Fructose and Juxtapoz.
How do you care for yourself to ensure you’re available when ideas present themselves?
It is a lot easier now. I have had plenty of jobs in the past where I had to work 60-70 hours in retail hell or some deep, dark cave of a warehouse. I called out sick or made excuses to leave early many, many days so I could immediately act on an idea. There is a quote about inspiration requiring an immediate marriage to action and it’s true. If I don’t act quickly enough on an idea, or even finish it quickly enough, it is fleeting. I’ll lose interest. Even if I get it started but I wait too long to finish it, I lose it: the image may be there but that initial feeling of passion and excitement is gone.
How do you balance life and art effectively? Or, do you?
Balance is so important. I believe in some of my other answers I talked about how hard it is to work at home. It’s important to remember when you’re working – you’re working. With a child, you may have to stop and make meals or do other small things, but it’s important not to let that take you away from your work too long. I teach Ariel to be respectful of when I am working. She knows to be quiet and not to interrupt too much. On the other hand, when you’re not working it’s the same thing. It is hard, but you have to focus on quality time with your family just as much as you do your work.
How do you deal with creative dry spells? Do you make space for them, or push through?
They happen, and I try to allow for that. I find that they last longer if I try to force myself to keep creating through them because I am unhappy with the results, which lowers my self-esteem and drags the whole thing out. If I just focus on other less-intense creative projects, it eventually passes and I can pick up where I left off.
How do you deal with change, especially when it comes to creative mediums and passion?
As far as passion goes, my interests can be fleeting. So I am used to that. I suppose that is why I have to act on an idea and work to finish it so quickly, as I mentioned above. But the flipside to that is I never change mediums. I cling to painting. Even when I draw it’s very painterly, and I am really enjoying my newest venture of pen and ink washes – it’s like the perfect marriage of drawing and painting.
How does criticism affect you?
Almost never negatively. If it’s constructive, I use it. If it’s not, I just use it in a different way. Knowing how to take criticism is so important as an artist and as a human being. How else can you grow and evolve to your fullest potential?
Has your work ever been copied? If so, how did you deal with it?
No, it hasn’t that I know of. It depends on how much money was made from it if any. I don’t sell paintings or make money from anything I do often enough, so I’d be upset if money was made. But there’s also some flattery to it.
Do you have any other mediums you use to express yourself creatively?
Aside from painting, I express myself through fashion, curating, and writing. I love to shop and piece outfits together. It’s like any kind of art – I get inspired, I develop a vision for it, I find the tools to execute it, there’s an editing process. It makes me sad that fashion is so often written off as being shallow and meaningless. To me, it uses every step of my creative process as any painting would. As for writing, I am most comfortable in journalism and non-fiction. I also write poetry and short stories, but I am less comfortable sharing those. Maybe I will someday under a super top secret pseudonym. And in my curatorial projects, aside from the joy of deciding which artists and musicians go well together, I like finding ways for them to collaborate and make new things. It helps them to grow as artists and makes it a unique experience for everyone – them and the viewers.
Do you enjoy collaborating, or prefer to work alone?
I love to collaborate, especially with one of my “sisters” - PJ Superior. She left me for the fabulous L.A., so it doesn’t happen often anymore. It will happen again on August 29th with Fervent Fusion at the East Room. Music by Minona and the French Lips. She and I will be exhibiting our work and painting live together. We share canvas when we paint live - our styles just flow together so well. We truly have a deep connection with one another in so many ways, and it shows in the work we do together. I am especially excited for this particular night because the bands are right up my alley as far as the kind of music I am best inspired by.
Do you work in a studio/space designed specifically for your creativity, or on the spur of the moment/anywhere inspiration strikes?
I have a studio set up in my kitchen which is ideal for me, but I also have a mobile painting set up which I perfected over time from all of my live painting gigs.
Is it important for you to have a creative, inspiring environment?
Oh yes. very much. My best work space was my own studio my mom let me set up in her garage. It was away from my home for one, which is important. I could also do anything I wanted with it. I did the floors up in gold glitter and the walls were hot pink, and also covered in words and images I find inspiring. Unfortunately it was devoured by black mold, but one day I strive to have a space like that again. Something that is away from home and when I go there - it’s to work. No confusion or blending between the two. In the mean time, I have made my apartment as aesthetically inspiring as I can. It is small, but it definitely has our flavor.
Do you plan thoroughly for projects, or go with the flow?
Depends on the project. At Live Painting gigs I have no choice but to go with the flow. For painting at home and planning shows, I plan very thoroughly. Small happy accidents are nice, I crave those. And I prefer for there to be a lot of unplanned subtleties such as the expression on one of my female’s faces, or unplanned line work - that’s where all of the emotion comes through. But ultimately I like for my composition, imagery, and color scheme to be planned. That’s what makes it a good piece of art, in my opinion. I don’t like having one without the other - I need the well-planned/trained execution along with the emotion.
Do you have a preferred way of cataloguing ideas?
I keep a sketch book, but mostly I rely on my catalogue of reference images - pulled from online, magazines, books, etc.
Do you utilize social media? If so, how?
Yes, it’s just almost stupid not to these days. Although I am a pretty huge Luddite and despise most of what has happened to our society because of technology, I’m not going to let the success of my projects suffer because of my stubborn, old fashioned ways. So I use it to promote, promote, promote.
What is your typical day like?
I get dressed. Even if I’m going to be working at home all day – the act of getting dressed is what puts my mind in the right state to get going. I check and respond to messages for my writing and the shows I organize. Some days are errand days – dropping off work, picking work up, meeting with other artists, buying supplies, etc. Other days I stay at home and paint or work on other projects. Then there are computer days when I write, maintain correspondence for shows or art sales, updating my websites or facebook pages, research, printing reference images, etc. Most days I have Ariel with me – so I am tending to her throughout all of that. I set aside some days when my main “job” is to do stuff just for her – going to the movies or going bowling just the two of us. I also work a part-time “day job” which takes up 2-3 days out of my week. Regardless, I make sure to end every day with quality time with my fiancé. We love watching movies together. I never stop moving though, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed.
Do you have any rituals that help to set your creative time and/or space?
As I mentioned above, beginning each day with getting dressed. For painting, it is most productive and successful when I block off the day for it and have plans for the evening. So I start painting first thing in the morning and go at it full blast until it is time for evening plans. That gives me a time restriction which makes it more urgent and helps me to stay focused. It also forces me to stop at a certain point and wind down so I don’t get burnt out and overwork a piece. Other than that, I must have music playing, and I prefer to work in a certain kind of organized chaos. But the chaos starts to take over some times, so I usually start by tidying up my work space just enough so everything I need is accessible.
Does spirituality and/or culture play a role in your creativity?
Yes to both. For one, I am a pretty spiritual person and I do believe all of my art and inspiration and anywhere I succeed at in life comes from a higher power. That higher power is undefined for me because it is too big to be defined, but art is a very spiritual thing for me. I like thinking of art as this thing that I fully devote myself to the way some people do a specific religion. In that way it’s a form of worship. I am also so strongly influenced by fashion and pop-culture.
Do you believe art can change the world? If so, how?
Absolutely – it is such a primal desire in humans, it is powerful. Visual art is beyond words, so it affects us in a way that is beyond words. If we only focus on what is physically necessary for our bodies to function, life becomes meaningless. It’s art of all forms that feeds our souls and makes life worth living – it makes it desirable. It is, for me, a reason to wake up every day and keep going – not just to keep going, but to enjoy doing it. There is so much unknown to us, it just seems especially pointless to live if we are not happy productive people, and that’s what creating does for us.
Do you believe that connecting with your creativity, or helping others to do so, can positively affect the world? If so, how?
I feel that my art makes the world a more beautiful place, it touches people’s hearts and souls and inspires them to do the same. It’s a spiral effect of beauty.
Are you active in your local art community? If so, how do you help and support each other?
Oh yes, and hope to do even more in the future than I do now. I have many artist friends that I stay closely connected to – we create together, critique and advise each other. I organize shows to bring all of those people together and to give them a place to get their work out there. We’ve all been isolated and creating in our homes for far too long. It is truly time for Murfreesboro to blossom and open its arms to its artists. One day I would like to take it to the next level and open my own gallery and music venue. I picture a building that breathes creativity. Music all of the time, art everywhere – a completely unconventional exhibition space for all of the “other” artists and musicians out there.
Do you surround yourself on a daily basis with creative, inspiring people?
Everyone I interact with on a daily basis is a creative person. My life revolves around art so intensely, I think other creative people are really the only ones who seem to find a place to fit in my everyday life. No one in my family is really artistic, and I still make time for them, but we certainly don’t connect in the same way as I do with my artistic family. I see art like you would see a new lover – they are all consuming, can do no wrong, there’s little room for anything else in your life – only that phase of a relationship usually only lasts a few months. My love affair with art has been going full force for about thirteen years now, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, ha ha.
What effect do you want your art to have on the world?
I just want it to affect people the same way certain art affects me. I see certain pieces or hear certain music and am just so in awe of it and instantly in love. Occasionally people express feeling that way about what I do, and that’s enough for me. It keeps me going. If it could reach a wider audience and happen more often, that’d be great!
What music, if any, plays while you work? What are you listening to at this very moment?
Right at the very moment I am listening to Sympathy for the Record Industry’s compilation: Alright, This Time Just the Girls, Vol. 2 (on vinyl). It features one of my favorite bands of all time: Miss Derringer, which is fronted by Liz McGrath – one of my favorite visual artists. It also features many other great artists including: Lisa Marr Experiment, The Bristols, Candypants, Downbeat 5, and so many other great people. I will listen to any good music fronted by a female, or anything that evokes a strong emotion. That’s important while I work – to keep emotions at full intensity so that it comes through in the work.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
To recognize and treat your art as a full time job. If you spend 40 hours at a day job, you still have to try to find another 40 hours a week to spend on your art. Even if you don’t have inspiration, spend time in your studio anyway - trying to find inspiration, cleaning, organizing, or doing something in that space.
Do you have any advice for aspiring creatives?
Yes, it’s still a job. If you want it, you have to work at it. And in art, that means working for a very, very long time before you see any result. Really giving your art career your undivided attention just means you have to do that in addition to whatever else you have going on – whatever pays your bills. Odds are, you’ll do that for years before you ever make even a small portion of your living off of your work. You have to set aside your art time and stick to it. If you’re serious about it, dedicate yourself to it. It’s not easy. I am certainly run ragged most of the time keeping up with all I have going on, but I am passionate about every single thing I’m doing and that keeps me going. Work, work, work, and work some more. And be professional: you need to have a portfolio, a resume, and an artist’s statement. I still put people in my shows without those things, and sometimes I feel like I am doing them a disservice, because not many other curators or galleries will, so they’re not learning how to make it in the art world through their experience with me. But at least I am giving good work exposure. Sadly the reality is in the art world, exposure won’t mean a whole lot if you meet just the right contact and you don’t have a professional portfolio, resume, and statement to send to them.
Do you have any upcoming projects/collections to share?
Fervent Fusion is my new business. It’s an event production entity that brings artists and musicians together for guerilla art shows, and it also gets the musicians and artists to collaborate. I’ve brought local artist and musician Ryan Frizzell in to work on it with me because he is so hard working, he bridges the gap between the art world and music world, and he’s such a nice guy he’s a joy to work with. And I feel he is as passionate as I am about what I’m hoping to accomplish with Fervent Fusion. Ryan and I will be contributing art work to a music show happening at the End in Nashville on July 11th. Roman Polanski’s Baby will be performing; my good friend Carter Hays is their drummer. Carter also used to help me organize art and music shows years ago. I wanted to do art shows, he wanted to bring in bands to play insisting it would draw a crowd, and I was worried it would take attention away from the art work. But I realized it does bring in more people, and the music enhances the art work and vice-versa. And that’s what inspired me to start finding ways for the two to overlap. So I try to get artists to make art inspired by the music of the bands that will play, and I try to get bands to write music inspired by the art that will be exhibited. It has only been pulled off to its fullest potential at the East Room by the Grayces performing a song inspired by Ryan Frizzell’s “A Whale of a Good Time” and it was so amazing and perfect. That night I knew I had to make that happen more often. And so Fervent Fusion was born. We have more shows coming up throughout the year, which people can find listed on our facebook page: facebook.com/ferventfusion and on our website: Fervent Fusion
Where can we find your art?
On my facebook page: facebook.com/maiharrisart
But I strongly encourage people to instead come see it in person at any one of the Fervent Fusion shows. I will also have work on display at the Murfree gallery inside of the Rutherford County Office Building throughout July, and I always have work up at LimeTiger and at Earthsoul.