In an unassuming former office building on East Montague, there's an art revolution brewing. Its leader: a tall, quiet, PBR-drinking North Carolinian. Charleston, meet The Patrick Harris (he goes by The Patrick Harris): artist, innovator, curator, and collaborator.
Harris recently opened up the pH Gallery at 1056 E. Montague, and judging by the art on the walls, this won't be the only time you hear from the Winston-Salem expat.
While the space, with its low-hung ceilings and somber carpet, might not seem ideal for artistic upheaval, just take a look around. Patch Whisky's arresting street art hangs alongside soothing Cindy Taplin landscapes and quirky Pat Landeck illustrations. There's also a few pieces of Harris's own work. A pop-arty blend of comic book nostalgia and bright, ironic imagery.
Harris loves the work of his artists as much as he loves his own and sees gallery curation as an art form unto itself. "I want to share my vision of the world and my favorite artists' visions of the world with the rest of the world," Harris explains. "It's simple. I want to bring people in and hope that they connect with the same visions I connect with."
The vision of the pH Gallery is eclectic, high-quality contemporary art, according to Harris. "It's all artwork that I love personally but doesn't necessarily always reflect my own work," he continues. "While all of these artists are capturing their own world view, not one seems out of place with the other. It's a world view shared by many different visions."
Harris's own pop-graphic style is peppered with influences from Pop Art icons to German Expressionists, Neo-Expressionists like Jean-Michel Basquiat to local contemporaries like Nathan Durfee.
"Patrick Harris is going to be a key component in the art scene here," says Rich Miller (a.k.a. Patch Whisky). "Stepping into his gallery, it was a treat to view some fresh art from some talent I have not been introduced to yet."
As the eye and vision of Winston-Salem's contemporary-focused Delurk Gallery, Harris is no stranger to a challenge. Delurk, founded among the ashes of a former arts center in 2012, was recently named Best Art Gallery in Winston-Salem by locals for its presentation of new and challenging work to the community. "Our goal was to continue pushing everyone further," Harris explains. "I hope to continue that same spirit and vision here."
The son of an art teacher, Harris grew up surrounded by art in Statesville, N.C. and has been drawing and painting for as long as he could hold a pencil or brush. Harris' move to Charleston was spurred by a need for change after six years in Winston-Salem. The death of his father in late 2012, a man who always dreamed of living near the beach, sealed the deal. "I needed new horizons, visages, and challenges," Harris explains. "With its art scene, great history, beautiful landscapes, and weather everywhere I go, [Charleston] seemed like a paradise for someone like me."
But while Harris thinks the Holy City has a healthy arts scene, he sees room for gallery growth. "There's so much talent in the area that there's definitely a need for more outlets, which I hope I can help out with," he says. "I'd like to continue to meet and show local artists alongside artists I enjoy from around the country. I'm looking forward to being a part of the scene and seeing where it goes."
Those out-of-staters include Clemmons, N.C.-artist Chad Beroth. Using mixed media, Beroth combines cartoon images like Homer Simpson, "The Birth of Venus," and even collaborations with his daughter to create his contemporary art.
Another pH Gallery artist on display now is New York City painter Tiffany Luper O'Brien, who takes the innocence of childhood and leads it down a dark alley. Her creepy depictions of little girls come with titles like "Road Kill Kitty," "Babies Shouldn't Have Stilletos" (depicting an infant with a gouged out eye), and "Little Lucy Took Luck Into Her Own Hands" (featuring a small girl holding an ax).
The imagery is a far cry from the romantic landscapes of other area galleries, and it appears North Charlestonians are not only OK with that, they're encouraging it.
Harris has already had tremendous support from quite a few local artists, as well as Mayor Keith Summey and the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department. "[North Charleston] feels like a small, burgeoning melting pot," Harris says. "There are a lot of good people doing a lot of good things uniquely out of their own eclectic and vast talents. It won't stay too quiet for too long."
Collaboration is inspiration for Harris, and he'd like to continue his involvement with the Charleston arts community. "I really enjoy working with other artists, learning from other artists, and helping younger artists to grow by sharing my own knowledge and experiences with them," he says. "It benefits everyone much more than when artists are working to compete against one another."
Harris hopes to work with Charleston's musicians, foodies, and other visual artists on fundraising projects, community public art, and mentorship programming too.
"I'm a big believer in sharing for the benefit of the whole, paying back and paying forward," he says. "Most small business owners do what they do because they love what they do, and they want to share it with the world. The world benefits every day from the byproduct of that love."