Some time ago, just as the shackles of the global pandemic were being loosened, and a sense of freedom and normality was finally returning, I found myself at one of my favourite cigar lounges in Knightsbridge, with an old friend, and a budding art collector.
Between puffs of our cigars, and slow slips of our cognac, we caught up and laughed about the precariousness of business, work, and life in general, and our shared feeling of relief that there was light in sight at the end of the tunnel.
As he reached the final third of his cigar, he took a deep pull, exhaled slowly, a cloud of smoke momentarily masking his sheer contentment, before he looked me squarely in the eye, and asked me frankly, and matter of factly; ‘so, who is next up...who’s work should I be looking into to buy?’
I paused for a moment, deep in appreciation for the fine taste and construction of my private blend cigar, but also in deep contemplation of his question. The truth was, I was deeply uninspired by a lot of the new artists I was coming across, and the general state of the contemporary art market. Oversaturation, a lack of originality, and uncompelling narration was seeping in and festering, and besides the catalogue of amazing artists I either already promoted or had collected myself, I was completely at a loss, as to who to recommend.
That was until I came across the work of Megan Gabrielle Harris, whose work reignited my flame and passion for new
and emerging artists that was burning out quickly, like a candle in the wind. Surreal, dreamy, seductive, original, coming across her work made me utterly heady with excitement and optimism.
A thoroughbred Cali girl living in New York, who seamlessly fuses a career in fine art and high fashion, featuring her for Polo Lifestyles Magazine, also signalling my return after a short hiatus, was not only inevitable, but destiny.
Raphael: Megan, first off, can I just say how deeply moving and trance inducing your work is? Regarding your portraits eerily reminded me of early Hollywood films from that golden era of the 1930’s to 50s, where time seems to float by, and life is so whimsical and easy, only this time shown through the lens of aspirational, independent, and self actualised black women. My mind was then hilariously transported from that era to the 2000’s, and I was reminded of the TV sitcom, ‘Girlfriends’, and found myself seeing parallels between your muses, and the lives of iconic characters like ‘Joan Clayton’ and ‘Toni Childs’.
Does film or TV, as a creative medium inspire your work at all, and the wonderful, and seemingly easy lives of the ladies of leisure who serve as your muses?
Megan: Film, TV and fashion all play as large inspirations for my work. Your comparison to the show ‘Girlfriends’ is spot on because for me, it was definitely one of the earliest visual representations of successful and independent black women I saw on TV. I’ve always been drawn to the carefree woman seen so often in vintage films and magazine editorials. Although this “carefree woman” was typically white, that feeling she embodied was something that I wanted to sort of reimagine from my own perspective.
Raphael: You describe yourself as an escapist artist, and it’s pretty obvious to see why, as your paintings, with their loose brush strokes, and slightly blurred backdrops, present a dream-like aesthetic and feel. My first thoughts upon seeing your work for the first time was of Salvador Dali, and his surreal portraits, and also of David Hockney and his use of vibrant colour to create a mood and ambience that perfectly captured his perception of California. But I have since come to learn that your greatest inspiration is actually your father, Thomas Harris, an artist whose work you grew up around - the original escape artist!
Tell me, what was growing up with an artist as a father like, and how has it moulded you as far as the artist you are today?
Megan: Growing up with an artist father was incredibly inspiring. I would be so excited to look through his sketchbooks, study the paintings throughout our home and to just watch him paint...I’m still amazed by the amount of work he’s created and continues to create, as well as the range of subject matter he’s explored over the years. I remember being in the fourth grade and being so determined to paint for the first time, my father guided me through it all and that was when I knew this was something I’d always wanted to do. I instantly fell in love with painting. I’m so grateful for his excitement and encouragement during those initial attempts as they tremendously shaped my experience as an artist. His style as well as his ability to work through different mediums inspires and influences me a great deal.
Raphael: Just to dial back a bit to get a sense of your amazingly eclectic background and your journey so far. You were raised in Sacramento in California. You are currently based in New York. You have a degree in Art History, and when not transporting your art viewers to new dimensions through your surreal work, you double as both a fashion model and designer?
How would you describe your upbringing, and growing up, what were your expectations of the life you wanted to lead, and who you wanted to become?
Megan: My upbringing was quite special. Both of my parents are from Los Angeles but wanted to live a quieter, slower paced lifestyle so they relocated to Sacramento right before I was born. They made sure that my brother and I had the chance to enjoy our childhood which I am eternally grateful for. My mother always encouraged us to pursue our passions over the pursuit of money. I later realized how fortunate I was to have the freedom to pursue higher education in a field I was genuinely interested in without having to work while doing so. Growing up in that sort of environment allowed me to be quite idealistic regarding the sort of life I wanted to lead. As a child I could never see myself doing just one job. In addition to being an artist, by the time I was nine or ten years old I had also hoped to be an author, photographer, and designer. It wasn’t until a year or so later that the idea of modeling was presented to me, which was eventually added to that list of professions I had hoped to eventually have.
Raphael: Like Hockney, your portraits seem to evoke a lifestyle that is quintessentially Californian, or perhaps, specifically the lifestyle that most have come to associate with Hollywood; which is one of leisure, relaxation and easy living. In your own personal life however, you’ve traded sunny California for the ‘Big Apple’, a seismic shift in culture, lifestyle, and timezone, though one which makes absolute sense given that New York is one of the major art capitals of the world.
How has moving to New York changed you from both a personal and artistic standpoint, if at all, and what do you love and dislike most about the city?
Megan: I think it took a bit of growing up to realize how lovely California really is. Being born and raised there I think really caused me to take it for granted. The idea of me moving to a city like New York was one that I couldn’t shake. Moving to New York City changed my life in every way. I decided to take the leap in 2015, shortly after graduating from California State University, Sacramento (CSUS). I had a series of dreams leading up to the decision, I craved the change and it was the strongest calling I had ever experienced. I visited for the first time the year prior and with that one visit I knew it was where I was supposed to be. In my mind this city was the only place I could potentially achieve all of the creative professional goals I had. I love NYC for its rich blend of cultures, the amount of opportunity and the people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and building lifelong connections with. On the other hand, I’ve learned that NYC is truly a place that never seems to turn off. To be quite honest, the Cali girl in me is beginning to feel the heaviness of it all.
Raphael: I alluded earlier to the affluent and aspirational muses you depict in your work, and by extension, you’ve had the great luxury of working with aspirational brands, such as Veuve Clicquot and Wander for Bergdorf Goodman.
All too often, the narratives around black women are based on trauma, struggle and oppression, but counter to this, there appears to be a growing movement that celebrates black women excellence, indulgence, self care and appreciation, often colloquially referred to as ‘Rich Aunty’ vibes, which Polo Lifestyles’ love and are here for by the way!
How important is it to you as an artist, and indeed as a black woman, to depict black women living their ‘best lives’ and being the best versions of themselves?
Megan: As a black woman artist, I believe that depicting black women doing things solely for their own pleasure is critical to reshaping the narrative for us. I am of course just one of many artists with this focus, but every work of art with this kind of subject matter (whether it be a painting, film or photograph etc.) broadens the scope of which black women are viewed in this society, one piece of work at a time.
Raphael: We are living in a new age of big data, cryptocurrencies and technology. The world is increasingly moving online, as we have seen with the art market entering the virtual realm through the global pandemic; which in my view has obvious pros, but also some daunting cons.
What role has social media and virtual art viewings played in your journey as an artist, and your ability to connect with both your local and international market?
Megan: Social media has allowed for my work to reach places I never dreamed it would and has been extremely instrumental in bringing wonderful opportunities my way. One of my first major collaborations was with the Dutch brand, Wandler which ended up becoming a collaboration with Bergdorf Goodman as well. Without the visibility that instagram allows I’m not sure I would have been on anyone’s radar, especially not so soon in my artistic journey. Through instagram, I’ve been contacted by people reaching out to tell me how my work has made them feel and why it spoke to them the way that it did. Making this work is fulfilling in itself, but receiving confirmation in real time from people from all over the world has been so incredibly rewarding for me.
Raphael: I know your art career alongside your profession as a fashion model is one that you are increasingly investing more into, and given the strength of your work to date, your background as a graduate of art history, and hailing from an artistic family, I expect nothing short of a great career ahead of you.
What is next for you as an artist, and what can we expect in future, as far as a new series of work, or any group or solo exhibitions both domestically and internationally?
Megan: t this point in my journey as an artist, I have decided to prioritize my art making and I will be relocating to California for an indefinite period of time. For the past six years I’ve been working full-time as a model and after experiencing a pandemic and living in NYC through all of it, I’ve had some personal realizations that require me to step back from the chaos for a bit. During my time at home I plan to create a new body of work that will hopefully lead to my first solo. I’m also currently exploring the NFT world and I’m working on my genesis collection. It’s such an exciting new frontier for artists of every medium so I’m going to dive in and just see what happens. I haven’t ever before had the chance to put my art above everything else, so this coming year will be quite an adventure.
Raphael: As an artist, when it’s all said and done, what do you want to be remembered for when you consider your contribution to the canon of art history.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
Megan: I can only hope that my legacy will be that I’ve presented a unique voice that provides an example for what it looks like to see black women dream. To see black women in their bliss. To see black women simply enjoy their lives with no limits, no expectations....No matter how my work changes over time in style, subject matter or mediums, it would be an honor to have contributed this kind of work to the canon.