Vix Harris Creates Art that Centers & Celebrates Women around the World
Vibrant colors, intricate patterns, floral forms, and powerful women flow through the canvases of Vix Harris’ captivating designs. Harris’ art centers and celebrates women – focusing on equality, empowerment, and the strong connection women have to the natural world. Her love of color and patterns spring from her early childhood spent in Kenya and Malawi, spiraling into a life of diverse travels and worldly conceptions. With a degree in printed textile design, from England’s Winchester School of Art, the artist and teacher, has fused her love of art and extensive travels to inspire art that evokes equality and inclusivity. In 2016, Harris kicked off her celebrated #50RebelWomen project, crafting a design a week for 50 weeks, featuring inspirational women and their wise words. Harris’ works speaks to the diversity, unity, beauty, and strength all women possess.
The powerhouse artist talks her philosophy, inspiration, and the importance of representation for women.
Describe your beginnings with art.
I don’t think I can pinpoint exactly when I started developing an appreciation for art. I’ve just loved drawing and creating things from a very young age. It’s always been something that I love to do. As I got older, people started telling me I was good at it.
Where do you currently reside?
For the last three and a half years I’ve been living in Singapore working as an English language teacher, but I’m moving back to the UK in July to make the transition to become a full-time artist. I’ve been living and working abroad for the last 18 years, on and off, and I feel like it’s time to be closer to home and start a new chapter in my life. I need a new challenge.
Discuss how your personal art grew into a brand.
After graduating from art college in 1997, I couldn’t find a job and just got disillusioned with the whole industry. That’s when I decided to travel and become an English language teacher and I didn’t draw again for over ten years. In 2012, while living in a small fishing town in Vietnam, I decided to start drawing again – I wanted to get back into being creative and see if I could still do it. I started sharing some of my work on Facebook and then embarked on a year-long project which I called #50RebelWomen. I wanted to get better at what I was doing and knew that meant developing a regular art practice and holding myself accountable. Over a year, I produced 50 designs (one a week) of women I admired and who had changed or were changing, the world for the better with their talents, strength, and courage.
Share your creative process. Do you stick to a schedule? How do you get into your creative zone and keep your energy flowing?
It’s pretty hard to have a regular schedule at the moment because I’m still working full-time as an English teacher. Luckily though, most of my classes are in the afternoons and evenings so I try to create in the mornings and on my days off. I need a calm space to create so I’m very organized and tidy – if my room’s a mess then so is the inside of my head. I usually put music on to work to or I listen to podcasts – it’s great to be learning something new while I’m creating something new.
What is the Vix philosophy?
I think my main philosophy is equality for all. We’re all aware that many people are treated like they’re ‘less than’ purely because of their gender, the color of their skin, their sexuality, their physical ability, or anything else that might make them ‘different.’ I am very aware that I have incredible privilege. After all, I’m a white, cisgender, able-bodied woman who was born into a loving family; I hold a British passport, which has enabled me to travel (and live) all over the world, and English is my first language. That fact alone has provided me with work for the last 18 years. I am incredibly fortunate to have the life I have, so the very least I can do is try to use my art to raise awareness and shine a light on something I feel very strongly about.
Describe your signature design trait.
I think my signature design trait is probably the tropical leaves I surround my subjects with, and my use of bright colors.
If your creative work were edible, what would it taste like?
I think it would probably taste quite exotic, like tropical fruit found only in a very remote part of the rainforest.
Wow, so many! Not enough space here to list them all. Some of my favorites are Tracey Emin and Frida Kahlo (who were featured in my #50RebelWomen project) for their searing honesty and courage both on and off the canvas. I also love Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele for their unique style and color palettes. On Instagram, I follow contemporary artists like Mickalene Thomas, Tawny Chatmon, and Kehinde Wiley. Their work inspires me daily.
Powerful words of wisdom you received from fellow artists?
Lisa Congdon is an artist I’ve loved and respected for a long time and her posts on Instagram always keep me inspired. One of the quotes which keeps coming back to me is from Nina Simone (another of my #50RebelWomen) who said, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times…How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That, to me, is the definition of an artist.”
How do you wind down at the end of the day after working in your art and education spaces?
It depends on how tired I am. Sometimes I just need to flop on my bed, light a candle, and read a book. I also find nature incredibly restoring and going for a walk in Singapore’s Botanic Gardens always re-energizes me.
You’ve worked in a few places around the globe – from Vietnam to Tanzania. How have your travels influenced your personal growth?
I think my travels have had a huge impact on how I’ve grown as a person. I’ve formed amazing friendships with people from so many diverse backgrounds and cultures. It completely changes the way you think and opens you up to so many possibilities. I know it’s a cliché, but the main thing you come away with is that everyone is essentially the same. We all just want the best for ourselves and our families, the people we love. That’s it.
... your art?
In terms of how it’s shaped me as an artist, I think it’s introduced me to different ways of seeing. I also think a lot of the patterns that come out of me and onto the paper have been formed by all the visual treats I’ve been witness to; whether that’s roof tiles on a temple in Thailand, patterns on a kanga in Tanzania or a wedding celebration in South Korea. I’ve taken thousands of photos over the last two decades too, and sometimes they influence my pieces. Each country has its own richness and textures, certain sights and smells, and every time you leave you take something of that country away with you. It’s a bit like adding to a massive scrapbook in your head.
How does being an educator impact your work as an artist? And how does your work as an artist impact how you teach?
I think if you had asked me this question a year or so ago, I wouldn’t have recognized any impact because I was getting fed up with the teaching and was desperate to work on my art full-time. But over the last few months, I’ve discovered that they actually complement each other quite well. I run art workshops which obviously require me to use my teaching skills, and occasionally I do arts and crafts activities with my kids as part of their English language lessons. I think the teaching has helped me to realize the importance of structure and to be clear on my intentions and goals (before you write a lesson plan you need to have a lesson aim), and the art helps my students to relax and takes away the pressure and expectation of having to be ‘academic.’ Some students struggle with that and can express themselves much better through being creative. So recently, I have become much more aware of how these skills I’ve honed can be used together for maximum impact. I’m still not sure where this might take me but it’s an exciting discovery!
Explain how your relationship to “the natural world” has shaped your work?
I was incredibly lucky to be brought up first in the wilds of Kenya and Malawi (where my sister and brother were born), and then in a small rural village in Staffordshire, UK, so I’ve felt a strong connection to nature from a very young age and I have my parents to thank for that. I was given a lot of freedom and was always out on my bike, camping with friends, playing on farms, making dens in the fields, riding horses, watching lambs being born - even birthday parties were celebrated with a long walk to a beautiful forest or lake and then a picnic. I spent as much time as I could outside, and still do.
I didn’t intentionally decide to include nature in my work but when I thought about how I could celebrate the women I wanted to feature that’s just what appeared on the page. Now it feels like a natural choice because of the strong connection women have to the earth, and for me it’s something incredibly special because whenever I need to recharge my batteries or just need some solitude, I always find myself returning to nature, feeling the grass under my feet and just relaxing into the earth.
Why is it important for you to create art that is centered on women?
I’ve always considered myself a feminist - my mum has been a massive role model to me in that respect - and I have four young nieces who are growing up in a world that can still be a very dangerous place if you’re a woman: If you’re a trans woman of color, even more so. I wanted to find out more about the women who have blazed a trail for people like me: 44, single, childfree. I wanted to know more about the women who made it possible for me to live this amazing life, the way I choose, on my terms.
Photos: Vix Harris / Zerrin Studio