“I’m like 5’3 and 100 pounds,” says Playboy’s Miss November, Rachel Harris. “I like building big things because people don’t expect it from me. I get to lay on the floor and crawl over it.”
That’s her artwork she’s talking about. Huge, 12-foot canvases splattered in resins and oils. They’ll be on display starting December 11th at The Well in Downtown.
By day, Ms. Harris illustrates inspiration boards for architects and designers. She took up painting to escape the frenzy of work life.
“One of the things I like is that when I’m creating art I’m so focused that it’s like meditation,” she says. “And to be able to look back on it and have physical evidence of what I’ve done is an incredible experience.”
She’s also an exceedingly nice-to-look-at model (who you can follow on Instagram right here).
Her first show — Norwegian Death Metal — sold out. Her upcoming show takes the name Psychedelic Rock and was inspired by her trip to the Austin Psych Fest. We interviewed her about the exhibit and how she straddles the line between sex symbol and fine artist.
InsideHook: Tell us about your new exhibit. What about the Austin Psych Fest got you going?
Rachel Harris: I loved all of the production themes and was inspired by light installation artists. All of my new paintings are almost two paintings: when they have black light on them, they become a different painting. Some glow in the dark. There’s a little glitter. It’s been really fun.
IH: Have you used psychedelics before?
RH: When I was younger I was pretty wild. I tried lots of things. Acid was interesting. I tried it two or three times and that was enough of an experience for me.
IH: Would you say it was an experience that has influenced your work?
RH: I can’t create art under the influence, even if it’s just a drink or two. The most interesting thing I took from the experience was that it appeared that everything had life, that everything was breathing ... It sort of pulsated. I think it opens up a part of your brain that you aren’t normally attached to. But I haven’t used drugs in a long time. I wouldn’t say this show is inspired by them.
IH: How was doing the shoot with Playboy? Did you get a negative reaction from anyone?
RH: There were some concerns. The fine art world was a little bit difficult. I was told it was not in good taste to sell yourself over the art, or to sell sex with art ... that it kind of demeans it. But I have noticed a lot of public artists emerging through social media. People want to know about the artist as much as the art. I don’t see why I should hide behind my work. I don’t see any value in that. And if I can inspire other women to do the same, then that’s all positive.
IH: Do you worry that being a sex symbol might overshadow your craft?
RH: Yeah, of course I do. But my whole life has been me overcoming everyone’s opinion of me. I go to Home Depot to get supplies and people they think I’m getting stuff for my boyfriend. When they see my work they just assume it’s someone else's. I like that because it defies their expectations of me. If they want to just view me as a sexual being, fine. If it draws attention to the reality that I’m also an artist, then that’s great as well.
IH: In the pictures they have you painting nude. Do you do that often or was that their embellishment?
RH: I think it’s silly. I’ve seen some articles that say, “Rachel paints in the nude.” I don’t like that because it’s cheesy. To be honest, I don’t have AC in the loft and it’s hot and I’m getting paint on me, so I don’t really wear a lot of clothes. But I think the picture of me rubbing my chest on a painting is absurd.
IH: Wait, you don’t have A/C? In Downtown LA?
RH: Yes. It’s pretty intense. But I’m now doing more modeling so I’m less stuck in the space. I have a dual life now. This show was a lot for me to take on. Normally a show of this scale takes me six months, but I knew Playboy was going to be providing me with all of this press, and I wanted to direct it at something, so I just kind of gung-ho’d and went for the show and I’ve been working my ass off. I want people to look at it and say, “Okay, she’s not just a gimmick. She’s an actual artist.” My work will represent itself.
images via Rachel Harris and Anthony Williams