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Laura Harris dreams big in the abstract world

New work includes popular abstract landscapes and florals, as well as a 'whimsical' throwback

A person could get lost in one of Laura Harris's dream-like landscapes: the textured folds, soft blending of rich colours, the occasional splatter or thread of metallic shooting through the surface.

"Sometimes when I look at them, I'm like, 'This is where I want to be! I actually want to be wherever this is!'" Harris said with a sigh, "I think when people actually pause in front of my work, they don't need to buy it, if I just make someone in this day and age pause, that is very cool!"

On Friday afternoon, Harris was busy toiling away in her home studio in Victoria, putting the finishing touches on the final few new pieces that she plans to bring to Whistler this week.

"I'm still finishing the last pieces for the show," she laughed sheepishly, "I've tried to be organized with my approach - I really have - because this is the ninth show I've done at the Adele Campbell Gallery, and every year, I do it last minute. Every show I ever do is last minute, because I find, I don't know, it lacks passion or something - the work is different when I'm not under pressure! It just isn't as good."

Her work ranges from abstract landscapes to figurative and floral pieces, though more recently, she's been drawn more towards her striking abstract landscapes.

"The figurative I am going to revisit this summer. I love that work, and I just need a bit more time to play with it a bit more; I like the stark black and white and more contemporary, clean approach."

But this latest collection features 25 pieces, a mixture of abstracts and florals, plus a bit of a throwback: her whimsical houses, which she hasn't done for almost five years.

"Now, it felt like the right time. All of my galleries as pretty regular: there are always clients asking for them. So for the first time, I felt like, 'I'm feeling like revisiting them!' so I just did three, just as a little nod to the past."

Speaking of the past, Harris's artistic roots branch out quite widely: before pursuing painting, she was actually a graphic designer by trade.

"I guess I kind of straddled both worlds," she reflected, "My dad is a mechanical engineer by trade, but he was always painting and drawing when I was growing up."

"It gave me all of the perspective and the realistic side of things, and the training. I basically learned everything, so I knew how to break the rules!" she laughed.

But in the late '80s, early '90s, when computer graphics were just coming onto the scene, she decided to jump headfirst into this exciting new frontier of design.

"I loved doing that: I loved pitching ideas, I loved my clients and I had a great little business going. I was still painting, though - painting for myself, mostly - and then they started to sell, and then I had my first show, and it sold out!"

This accidental artist had no idea that her work would be so positively received by the artistic community.

"I never thought that I would be an artist. That wasn't my plan, ever, it was just something that I really enjoyed."

Now, after ten years of working as a professional artist, Harris still has no problem finding sources of inspiration for her work.

"I am lucky - and I'm knocking on wood while I talk to you - there has only been a few times in my life that I haven't been able to paint. I've been accused of being a little emotional, which I think is a gift, and I just draw on the emotions of whatever it is that I'm going through at the time, and there have only been a few times, and they've both been really difficult times, that I haven't been able to paint."

"Inspiration can come from anything: from my girlfriend's sweater to flipping through a magazine. Something really simple like that to, mostly and most consistently, it's from the ocean and from the outdoors," she said adding that she lives near the water and spends time exploring outdoors every day.

"Nothing gets me like sitting on the beach and looking out at that water and the sky and the bigness of it all, and that feeling of connection that we get, and the moment that you stop - actually just stop - and you breathe."

Harris doesn't exactly fit within the stereotypical "artist" mold: she isn't introverted or quiet, moody and withdrawn. Nope, she's energetic and upbeat, our conversation peppered with laughter and sly remarks. The common thread that seems to run through all of her paintings is this feeling of urgency, physicality, almost.

"My approach is much more aerobic: loud music, I paint aggressively - it's very physical for me!"

In the studio, she listens to everything from Led Zeppelin to Kanye West and Bob Dylan to help get her in the mood to create.

And for Harris, everything starts with her richly textured surfaces; underpainting simply doesn't do the trick!

"Some people just think its kind of the same process per canvas, but its really not. I've already kind of thought out the painting and know what sort of feeling I want to have when I start the texture, and sometimes I add colour in with the texture, sometimes I don't. But the process is layers and layers and layers of paint - probably I don't know, at the end of the painting, I've probably hit the canvas 20 different times!"

She uses acid-free archival quality tissue paper to create that "rippled" effect.

"I tear it and I muck it about, and I add medium to it and I rub it in my hands and put it on the canvas and move it around. It's very messy; my studio is a disaster!" she laughed.

And while she has a concept in mind when she starts with the canvas, she stays open to the shapes and textures that emerge from the process.

"I have to really let go of what I want it to be, because often the beauty is in the mistakes."

Harris's beautiful "mistakes" will be on display at the Adele Campbell Gallery until March 5.