Heather Bird Harris is an artist, mother, and educator living in New Orleans, Louisiana. She makes paint from handfuls of foraged, local earth pigments and mixes it with washes of water on canvas to recreate geologic processes and process eco-anxiety. Her work explores the throughlines between land history and Louisiana’s current environmental crises as well as mothering in the face of climate change.
Heather Bird Harris She received her BA in Art History and Studio Art from Skidmore College in 2009 and master’s degree in education leadership Columbia University in 2013. As an educator, Harris coaches school leaders and writes anti-racist history curriculum for schools in Louisiana which is a lens that deeply informs her work. She has participated in multiple exhibitions in New York, Louisiana, and California including Anthropocene Epiphany at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. Harris was recently selected for the 2022 Arts New Orleans SALON Residency with an upcoming solo exhibition in April 2022, Where the Water Goes. She’s represented by Cole Pratt Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana and Mont Art House in Houston, Texas.
Questions & Answers
Describe your art in three words.
layered, earthy, contextual
Describe yourself in one word.
What do you love the most about creating art in New Orleans? What particular part of your immediate environment, in your neighborhood specifically influences your work?
You can't beat the wild foliage of New Orleans, the low-hanging clouds, or the neighborly vibes. New Orleans values creativity and joy, often in defiance of capitalism and hustle.
Describe your creative process. Are there any rituals or rites of passage you exercise before you begin a new piece?
The process starts by foraging natural materials (a few handfuls of clay, top soil, discarded bricks, oak galls, decaying tree bark) and processing them into fine pigments. I mixed them with binders to create land watercolors and inks which became the first layers of each painting. After I make the natural pigments, I create a limited palette to compliment the earth tones. From there, I add water to the land and let it flow and pool into natural forms.
The materials mirror land loss on the canvas. As is true of the levees and the Mississippi River, I find the work most successful when I work with the elements instead of trying to control them.
Where do you draw inspiration?
Lately, I've been trying to make sense of the chaos by finding parallels between human behavior and patterns in nature (I'm writing this in Sept 2020, for context). When the human systems we've created feel especially insurmountably, harmful, and entangled, I find comfort in thinking of the even grander natural systems that will outlast our impermanent social constructions. I love how we share the same shapes and divine patterns as nature. When these micro/macro parallels show up on the canvas, it reminds me of how deeply connected we are.
Who are your artistic influences or gurus?
Rothko, Heather Day, Dario Robleto, Félix González-Torres. That's a very random and incomplete list.
In New Orleans, art and music go hand in hand. What type of music, band or song lyric best describes your work?
A mix of Kristin Diable, Tank & the Bangas, and Anders Osborne.
Where can we find you when you are not creating art?
Probably City Park, chasing around toddlers
What is your favorite time of day/day of the week/month of the year.
A spring morning when Mardi Gras is just around the corner.
What is something people don’t know about you? A fun fact.
I used to Irish step dance competitively - curled hair, high socks, brocade dress, the works!