Article and photos by Wendy Nugent
Although Ethan Patrick Harris? artwork is influenced by his time spent outside in the Kansas country?side as a youngster, his paintings don?t look anything like the Sunflower State?s idyllic rolling prairies.
Many of his paintings are of the fantasy genre in nature, with intense, saturated colors and creatures he?s made up in this mind.
?I?m very influenced by just organic shapes,? Harris said, sitting in his home-based studio. ?I?d rather find my own vision out in the world.?
And he has. His work doesn?t have a lot of straight lines, he said, as nature generally doesn?t have those. When he stayed in the country with a relative as a kid, he had nothing else to do, so he naturally went outside and drew images of animals, such as horses and turtles.
Those animals, as well as human-like creatures, have developed into a style all his own. Harris uses a great deal of swirly, curved lines, creating fantastical creatures.
For example, one painting, called ?The Hunter and His Henchman? is done in golds, oranges, purples, greens, dark reds and creams with dark shadows of a creature sporting rabbit ears holding a big stick.
?The biggest and the baddest fall to his spear, while his buddy observes,? is written under the painting at www.ethanpatrickharris.com. ?Catching a scrap or two to feed his cold and conjoined heart?or something like that. Thanks for your curiosity.?
The work measures 13 by 20 inches, and is oil and ink wash on board.
Harris described his work as possibly being somewhere between fantasy/science fiction and surrealism.
?It?s a genre I can fit into easily because so much of my imagery is surreal and nonrealistic,? Harris said. ?I never set out to do it that way. I just enjoy the freedom of story that is allows. There just aren?t that many rules in fantasy/sci-fi. It?s not bounded by physical laws as much as landscape paintings or portrait painting. I can put the strangest thing together, and it fits.?
When creating a new work, he said he usually doesn?t have a plan and starts with a line that turns into a shape, and that shape morphs into an object.
?Sometimes it turns into a success, and sometimes it?s a complete failure,? Harris said.
He added he can draw ?normal? subjects, like deer and rabbits, although he said he?s not great at doing landscapes, which is what sells in Kansas. In order to sell work, Harris started painting images of trees. These trees are curvy with swirly roots exposed.
?I get commissioned a lot for the trees,? he said.
He also does other commissioned work, as well as making art commercially. For example, he?s created art for role-playing card games. In fact, the first one he did was put on a cover. He?s also done a cover for an online book and is one of three artists featured in The Carriage Factory Gallery?s current show ?Down the Rabbit Hole? through Sept. 15. (The other artists are Beth Vannatta of rural Halstead and Barbara Haynes of Wichita.) Harris? artwork is for sale at the gallery and online at www.ethanharris.com. Harris also sells work at the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, a fantasy art convention.
The rural Newton artist enjoys his work for a variety of reasons.
?It?s (like) what do you like about your kids?? he said after being asked what he likes about art. ?It?s such a part of me ? you can?t separate it from yourself.?
He also said art is a way of stepping outside of oneself ? whether a person is creating or viewing it, and since he was young, he?s always been mesmerized by beautiful art.
?It just feels real in a way that the daily hum-drum of life doesn?t,? he said. ?For me, that?s what art is ? a passion.?
With this passion, he uses traditional and digital media. Harris? medium for creating paintings usually is oil.
Before starting his career, Harris had to come to this Earth. He was born in 1974 in Manhattan, Kansas, since his parents attended school there. As a toddler, the family moved to Newton.
?Newton?s all I remember,? Harris said.
Newton artist Phil Epp was an art teacher at the middle school Harris attended.
?He was very supportive of anyone who wanted to go into the arts, but it seemed like a wild idea back then,? Harris said.
About a year ago, Epp sent Harris an artist proof before Epp?s show at The Carriage Factory Gallery in Newton.
?He?s still being supportive,? Harris said.
Harris also took art classes at Newton High School.
?In high school, I avoided every other class than art class,? he said with a smile.
This included ceramics and everything else he could take, as well as theater.
Harris also recalled being influenced by NHS art teacher Patrice Olais, who took him aside once and said to him, ?You?re going into the arts, right?? At this point, he hadn?t thought about it.
?It was helpful,? Harris said. ?That was definitely a moment of encouragement I?ll always remember.?
After high school, he attended Bethel College in North Newton for a semester because some friends were attending.
?So, I went to KU and got more serious, but not that serious,? Harris said.
Then he transferred to Wichita State University, where he studied sculpture.
While in college, he built guitars. He also plays bass acoustic guitar on one he built himself.
?It?s one of a kind,? Harris said. ?Now that I have kids, if there?s a tornado, I think, ?Get the kids; get the bass.? ?
Harris and wife Robyn Hartvickson, a physician at Axtell Clinic in Newton, have two children: Riley, 9, and Aida, 7. Harris said art is an easy thing to do while he stays at home with the kids. Harris said he wishes he could just draw, but he wants to earn money to contribute, although he has no problem with his wife working.
?And she?s happy with it, too,? he said.
Harris said he has a huge advantage with his wife working outside the home and that he hopes he can do that for her someday. Also, he believes he works harder from home than he would at a 9-5 job.
During the years their kids were small, Harris concentrated on being a parent. Then he wondered what he could do from home. People say you should give it 10 years, Harris said, and if nothing happens after that time, it might be time to move on.
?I know I couldn?t (move on),? Harris said, adding things are happening in his career. ?So, I?m getting work now, and it feels good.?
Harris said he comes from a family of many farmers. The values he was taught included if you?re getting paid for your career, then you seem to be on the right path.
He started doing two-dimensional work six years ago and was doing three-dimensional art on the computer. Now, he does half of his work in traditional art media and half digital.
?It keeps it fresh,? he said.
From time to time, Harris will try new media, ?ruining sheets of paper? to see what the medium can do, he said. ?Just dive in.?
It seems being artistic runs in the family, as his daughter will sit and draw and draw. She wants to be an artist when she grows up, Harris said, and he?ll support that as long as she?s passionate about it. His son, who is more of an engineer, takes after Harris? dad.
Harris likes to work with his hands.
?If I lost my hands, I don?t know what I?d do,? he said. ?(I?d) probably annoy people with conversation.?