Local artist Kevin Harrison opens his first show in nearly four years in Avondale this week | Crop of Guardians de Paris by Kevin Harrison

Finding Comfort

Kevin Harrison is on the phone, and he’s talking a lot about things coming full-circle. That’s because, in many ways, they are. After living abroad for nearly five years, Harrison, a man of many talents (painter, video editor, art director, producer and graphic artist) moved back to Charleston in 2016. On April 1, he’ll host his first art show in nearly four years at Highfalutin in Avondale. 

“I feel like a long eight- or nine-year journey is coming to a culmination,” he said. “With this art show coming up, it feels like everything is falling into place.”

Adding intrigue to the show is the fact that the pieces Harrison, 52, will be selling are much different than anything he’s done before. First known in Charleston for painting cityscapes that captured the luminosity of a night out on the town, his newest series, Dreamscape, is decidedly more surrealistic than his past work. When his wife, Cathy O’Hara (a former news anchor at WCIV-TV), asked him how he’d describe the new pieces, Harrison said, “comfort food.”

Harrison

“They’re meant to bring a sense of calmness, and truthfully, they’re just pretty,” he said. “There wasn’t some special intention other than knowing that after what everybody went through in 2020, it’s good to sit down and exhale — like comfort painting.

“[The pieces] are incredibly unbusy compared to my other stuff,” he added. “They’re minimalist. I was trying my best to not clutter up what was going on.”

Harrison chocks up this newfound artistic freedom partially to his age. When he was a young creative still making a name for himself, he thought he was the “coolest dude in the world,” as he put it. Now that he’s into middle age (and a father of two, to boot), he’s realized that’s not the case. And, he’s totally fine with it.

“I don’t feel old at all, but at some point you stop caring as much. That’s been freeing for me. I understand now that most people are looking at their own steering wheel, just trying to get through the day. They aren’t preoccupied with what some random painter is doing,” he said. “But time-to-time, [art] is a nice distraction, and they can bring a piece home and let it radiate goodness wherever they decide to hang it.” 

Daydream Illusion by Kevin Harrison

With that realization, Harrison gave himself license to try new things. Thus, his new work in Dreamscape has a certain Dali-esque feel to it. He expects to have 11 or 12 works on sale the night of the show, including several featuring ghost-like chairs outlined in white, with women’s legs hovering in the frame.

Despite the obvious aesthetic differences between his cityscapes and his dreamscapes, there are similarities, too. First, each of his paintings, no matter the style, begins as a design in Photoshop. This allows him to experiment with the composition of a piece before commiting brush to canvas.

“Like the chair,” he said. “Before I decided to put that in, I sketched it in different styles, which let me decide what I liked and didn’t like.” 

Harrison, who’s accomplished just as much as a video editor as he has as a painter, returned to Charleston in 2016 after living abroad for half a decade, first near Barcelona and then just outside of Dublin. The opportunity to move overseas arose when his wife landed a job with a start-up called AirBnb, of which she was the 30th employee.

Life Finds a Way by Kevin Harrison

Those experiences taught Harrison to slow down and appreciate the smaller moments in life. “Everything’s a little slower, everyone’s a little nicer, and everyone’s a little less greedy,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine that Harrison’s laid-back experiences overseas didn’t inform, either consciously or unconsciously, his Dreamscape series.

“I wanted to create something that would be serene enough to feature in a yoga studio,” he said. “Not that anyone would hang one in a yoga studio, but you get what I mean.”

Harrison admits that he doesn’t get too attached to his work. “I don’t get sentimental about my stuff,” he said. “Otherwise, you’ll just end up surrounded by your own art.” But, there are a couple pieces his wife took a liking to, so as a compromise, he’s planning to slap a high price tag on them, with the hope that no one will be able to afford them. 

It should be noted that the opening falls on April Fool’s Day, and that Harrison has a reputation as a trickster. At an event back in the early 2000s, Harrison helped stage a fake protest from a fake right-wing organization that caught the attention of a local news crew.

“The people holding up signs were our friends,” he said. “It was all made up.” (Harrison recorded the whole scene and made a video, which, long story short, landed him a gig as creative director behind early Axe body spray videos.) So what does Harrison have planned for the Dreamscape opening? 

“People keep asking if I have something up my sleeve,” Harrison said. “There’s no stunt planned. Nothing’s going to happen.”

Of course, he could just be saying that. A really good prank, after all, would truly bring everything full circle.