Updated: Aug 26
The confluence of great Southern fiction and children's drawings is not a typical starting point for a career in art. But for Cracker Harris it sparked a creative journey that has led him to create Man of InterACTION!, now on display in Kentuck's Teer Gallery.
Fiction lent him the subject matter, and the drawings, which his children did on the side of their house, inspired the aesthetic. The result is paintings that evoke the Southern heritage they sprang from. Each highlights a different author, titles of their works scripted on the branches of trees, and scenes featuring their quintessential motifs populating the background—peacocks for Flannery O'Connor, a steamboat for Mark Twain, and a streetcar passing a block of row houses for Tennessee Williams.
The trees, placed in the foreground, are the unifying feature of Harris' literary series. They are large, obscuring much of the background, and stark, their branches bare of foliage, adorned instead by stories. They form a contrast to the brighter colors in the rest of the work, and the curve of each branch suggests swaying and the haze of hot Southern summers. Combined, these factors lend the paintings a slightly Gothic aura, complementing the works they draw from.
But while Harris may have drawn inspiration from the monoliths of Southern fiction as his entry into art, he began his creative career much earlier, in another medium entirely. Prior to embracing the title of artist, Harris identified as a musician. He recalls his musical foundations in an interview with B Metro Birmingham.
In 1998, he recorded a solo album, his first of eight, in the small Zero Return Studios in Elmore, AL. The record, Deep Dark Black, launched a music career that led him to Austin for five years and later Nashville. During this time his family grew, and as Harris began making trips home to Birmingham so his children could visit their grandparents, he recognized that he had become disillusioned with the music scene in Nashville. He and his family moved back to Birmingham.
There, Harris began devoting more time to the art he had begun creating in Nashville. What began with novels carved into concrete, evolved to include interactive pieces inspired by retro games, paintings done on scraps of roofing tin, and expressive figures he terms "misfits," all done in the colors and found materials that make his work recognizably his. In describing his first music album, Harris called the sound, "narcotic, country, alchemy," and that seems to be a vibe that guides all of his creative pursuits; it's an apt description of his art as well. A found object aesthetic combined with insistent colors elbowing for space creates a folk art fever dream, work that is fun and celebratory but with an edge.
Harris' interactive pieces do double duty as works of art and as playable games. Some, reminiscent of retro toys like Woolly-Willy, offer viewers an array of interchangeable, magnetized hairstyles to play with. Others, like Marriage Counselor, act as decision makers. Simply spin the wheel to find out what's for dinner, or whether a spousal tiff is best rectified with cuddling or doing the dishes.
Games are not the only inspiration Harris mines from his childhood, though. Some pieces, like "Miracle Strip," depict scenes from his past. Reminiscing about the Panama City theme park, Harris recalls it as a place where, "there was always fun and trouble to be had."
"If you've not rode Dante's Inferno with Black Sabbath at full volume, then I don't know. Kids are different now. This is what we did."
So, follow Harris' example and embrace your inner kid. Visit Man of interACTION!, play some games, and enjoy the work. And don't worry, if you need to figure out what's for dinner afterwards, there's some art for that.
Cracker Jack travels the festival circuit with his artwork and has shown at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, Finsterfest, and Fearrington Folk Art Show.
Man of interACTION! by Cracker Jack is on view until September 23, 2020 in Kentuck Art Center's Teer Gallery in the Georgine Clarke building. We encourage you to visit to see this work in person!
We are currently open limited hours--Monday-Friday, 10-12, 1-4 and Saturday-Sunday, 12-4. Facial coverings required.
If you're interested in purchasing one of these pieces, please call 205-758-1257 or email firstname.lastname@example.org before September 23, 2020.