INTERVIEWS | AT HOME WITH ARTISTS
IN THE STUDIO WITH KENNY HARRIS
Where are you spending this time? What do your days look like?
Let’s call the place I’ve been spending my time “The Classroom.” It is actually what my wife and fellow artist Judy Nimtz calls our guest room, which we converted into my online teaching room. The past 8 weeks have been a fire drill - I teach drawing and painting at Laguna College of Art and Design, and under normal circumstances, there is a balance between studio practice and teaching. But we all went into emergency mode trying to bring online teaching to the students. Shooting and editing demo videos, holding 6-hour Zoom classes online…it was a lot. I like teaching and am happy I have the job, but like so many teachers teaching visual art we were just trying to keep our heads above water…not knowing which way was up! I wanted to give the students quality instruction as well as emotional support. It has been really tough on a lot of the students. As for me, it pushed my teaching as well as stress-tested every piece of technology I own. After a lot of trial and error, I got creative with how to shoot painting demos in one camera to avoid having to edit a 2 or 3 camera shoot.
Judy has been very supportive knowing that we are in an emergency situation. I can’t imagine what it is like for her with me on these long 6-hour Zoom class meetings, with one-sided dialogue echoing out of the guest room. Or me with a sign reading “RECORDING” taped to the door while I’m shooting demos or recording Voice Over.
We’ve been trying to balance exercise, a bit of fresh air, painting, and my teaching. I like to get on my bike and head down toward the beach, hopeful for the day I can get in the sand and return to playing beach volleyball. Like most people, our life is centered around cooking meals, daily chores, our work, and generally looking out for each other.
What are you working on in the studio?
To be honest, most of what I’ve been doing are figure demos for teaching! I had just shipped a bunch of work for a show in New York, then this Covid-Teaching-Mayhem began. My usual painting practice slowed to a trickle and I put everything into the classes. One thing about working on these figure demos, it has made me want to return to painting the figure more - diving deeper into the technical aspects of figuration. If I have to make more demo videos this summer I will probably use it as an opportunity to depict the human form with more regularity in my work.
Aside from school, with travel doubtful, I should be able to get some studio momentum this summer – I want to work on some paintings of imagery from Lithuania and Russia from last summer. And, like most artists, I have a pile of stragglers around my studio that need love.
My studio is in our neighbor’s garage, right next door. It is a rough space, but I’m so grateful to have a separate studio! The only reason I set up my “classroom” in the house is for the WIFI!
Demos from the home 'classroom' - I filmed and edited the videos for my drawing and painting classes
You and Judy travel a lot together, have you had to postpone any travel plans and where do you hope to go next?
Yes, for sure. We had a short trip to New York and Ukraine that got canceled, as well as short summer trips out to Colorado and Hawai’i. I did a big painting trip last summer starting in Lithuania and St. Petersburg, then met up with Judy for 6 weeks of painting in Ireland. This summer we had planned to take it easy and just paint, so hey, well done us.
The painting trips are fantastic, but they do break up the rhythms of both home and studio. It takes a lot of energy to get set and go, and come back and settle in. I am looking forward to a domestic summer. Because of my teaching schedule, we are now only traveling in the summer or winter. We are missing the springtime travel to Italy, but it is a sacrifice for full-time teaching. Before Covid began we were thinking of Greece next summer, maybe North Africa. We’ll see where the world is then.
A small painting I managed to get done during this time. The Bow Room at Lissadell House (Ireland Series), 2020, 12" x 16"
We understand you are something of a coffee aficionado. What is your preferred bean and brewing method at the moment? How about a happy hour cocktail?
Yes, coffee! Lately, I’ve been pretty much staying with pour-over, giving my big espresso machine a break. And I’ve actually scaled back: I’m currently just having one (strong) cup of coffee a day. (For you geeks: a 24-gram dose Hario V60 pour-over.) Our electric kettle broke and we’ve been heating the copper teakettle manually on the stove and we feel very #cottagecore. A while ago we signed up for coffee delivery from Chromatic- a Bay Area Roaster who is always on point… good for quarantine! We get the Gamut espresso, a well-balanced, low-acidity blend that does well with pour-over or espresso.
Funny you should mention cocktails… Alcohol is definitely part of the lockdown. Gin is a favorite, so I’ll give you our Perfect Martini Recipe - (the “perfect” being the not-so-common ratio of equal parts dry and sweet vermouth.)
- 2 oz Dry Gin (we’ve been loving Botanist)
- .5 oz Sweet Vermouth (Dolin)
- .5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
Stir with ice in a shaker, strain into a chilled coup, garnish with an olive or a twist. The BEST.
Do we have time for one more? ok good…Here is a perfect summer drink--a riff on the Negroni, or an alternate version of a Negroni Sbagliato (messed up Negroni). It is simply Gin, Campari, and Tonic.
- 1 oz. Gin
- 1 oz. Campari
Top with Tonic water over an ice-filled tumbler. Garnish with Orange peel, twist, or lime.
This should win over anyone you know that doesn’t like Campari because of its bitterness. The sweetness of the gin and tonic counters the bitterness of the Campari. The perfect pink summer drink, now that Aperol Spritz is so common!
What work of art in your home means the most to you?
Ok, this is going to sound self-centered, so forgive me, but I did a double portrait of Judy and myself,Portrait of The Artist and His Wife, while I was in grad school—and it holds a deep meaning for me.
At the time we were both sacrificing a lot to get me through, and there was stress on the relationship, and I found that these two paintings, separate pictures but framed together as one, came to embody our connection together as artists and partners. In my mind, it is a symbol of how we’re bound together, but both full of individual fierceness. As we are now ‘bound’ together at home, this resilience together comes into a clearer focus. Two artists living together is a special thing, not always easy, but I never wish to take it for granted. This painting reminds me of our ongoing evolution together.
Portrait of the Artist and His Wife. Individuals, together.
Any books or recommended reading, listening, watching for these times?
I recommend Lawrence Weschler’s Vermeer in Bosnia. I dusted off my copy recently as I wanted to revisit his essay connecting the 20th century’s Yugoslav wars and war-ravaged Northern Europe when Vermeer painted his interiors (despite the so-called “Golden Age” there was plenty of violence around). I was in a reflective mood about the pandemic; of how Vermeer’s interior paintings were a reaction to a violent outside world. I was re-examining my empty interiors in the context of people being forced inside, as well as the surreal emptiness of public places that should have teamed with human presence. If you haven’t read any of Weschler’s writings he’s amazing, and Vermeer in Bosnia is a great place to start.
A good friend lent me his copies of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels, which I had never read—so good!
On a lighter note, Judy has been part of a book club with her friends, so she’s been feeding me her books right after she reads them. “Hurry up and read this quick, so I can talk with you about it.. before I forget the book!” These two were fun: Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky cleverly mixed sci-fi and fantasy, and I enjoyed Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming.
For listening, I haven’t had much time with all the teaching.. but one new podcast I really find enjoyable (terrifying) is called “Rabbit Hole” from The New York Times. It is a look at the YouTube algorithm and radicalization. Enjoy that!