Heather Bird Harris creates tonal, abstract paintings that reflect the history of land. Using found earth pigments, her work explores parallels between humanity and nature, including our past and present relationship to the land.
Heather graduated from Skidmore College in 2009 with a degree in Art History and Studio Art. She has worked closely with artist Oliver Herring to host three iterations of his relational works, “Task Parties,” and has also participated in the Turnaround Arts program through President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. As an educator, Heather also writes anti-racist history curriculum for schools in Louisiana, which is a lens that deeply informs her art. She has participated in multiple exhibitions in New York and Louisiana, and her paintings and commissions have been sold to collectors internationally.
I am also an educator, activist, and mother. My partner Josh and I have two little ones, Jade and Hazel.
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. The natural landscape inspires me because its beauty often stands in contrast to and in defiance of the ugly human actions of the past and present.
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!