Who I am

I am an artist based in San Francisco. For over two decades I have been creating artworks in a broad range of media that all share a common goal: to inspire viewers to bring their own internal narratives to light.

I received my BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University magna cum laude and studied on scholarship at Loughborough College of Art and Design in England.  I have been working as a professional artist ever since, with past exhibition venues including the Luggage Store Gallery, STUDIO Gallery, Root Division, the Red Poppy Art House, Pro Arts Gallery, the Richmond Art Center, the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, and the Oakland Museum of California’s CirCA Now series, as well as Field Projects Gallery in New York and Woman Made Gallery in Chicago.

My paintings and prints are carried by the SFMOMA Artists Gallery and are in private collections across the United States and in Europe and Asia.  I have also created numerous public art projects and interactive murals that have involved hundreds of participants from around the world in more than 15 languages.

I always find myself wishing I could read more about other artists’ formative years, instead of just their professional credentials, so in case you have the same interest, here are a few parts of my own story.


Reportedly this was my first word, said to the whole family.

I was born in Washington, D.C., to a relatively large family, with four older sisters.

I did this drawing of myself with our two cats when I was 4. It's the earliest self-portrait I have. I was very proud that I had thought to include the little face I had drawn on my thumb. You may not be able to make it out at this scale, but it's on the red finger to the right.

Are we there yet?

Unfortunately, around this same time my parents split up. After the divorce, I would often make a drawing for my father while I was at my mother's house, or vice versa.

Here's one I did for my mom, also when I was 4. I still remember the feeling of being small, sitting at my dad's seemingly huge desk, working on this big blotter graph paper. I also remember that I always wanted to use his felt-tip pens, especially the new ones with that beautiful sharp line quality, but I was young enough that even though I really tried, I would always mush the tip by accident, which made my dad pretty angry when he went to use them himself.

That's my ride

When I was 7, my dad took me to see the Black Stallion in the theater, and I got horse fever. I became determined that I was going to be a jockey (pretty hilarious considering my eventual height), and I got very focused on drawing the horse I wished I could have. Here's one I drew when I was 12.

I didn't actually want a horse, even though I read about them and drew them and studied tack and proper grooming and memorized Seabiscuit's lineage and even saved up money for a long time to go to horse camp for two weeks one glorious summer when I was 11. But the truth is, the horse represented something: a connection with the invisible, with something greater than yourself.

And really, even after all these years, in many ways I'm still trying to create that "horse."


When I was drawing all those horses, at one point an adult neighbor took notice and asked if she could buy one, so I sold my first drawing to her for a dollar when I was 10. I remember that she asked me to sign it and said she was going to save it for when I was a professional artist someday, and I felt very flattered and proud. What a kindness that was.

Then later, in junior high, I got chosen to do a little holiday window mural for Minuteman Press in downtown Gaithersburg. It wasn’t a big deal - just copying a holiday image they chose - but it was the first time I got to do any public art and it got a little write-up in the paper, which you can see here.

These events felt like little hints that art might be an option.

high school painting of my reflection in a dented metal container


As sadly happens for so many of us, even with my parents' best efforts, some parts of my childhood were not great. Even more unfortunately, some were not great in ways that were hard to tell anyone about or even understand myself.

Like a lot of kids with these challenges, as I headed into high school, my issues suddenly became apparent as I veered from being an award-winning honors student to winning awards for most likely to be absent. The simple truth is that because I couldn't figure out how to fix things, I really just didn't want to care about them anymore, and I tried my best in numerous ways not to.

But this difficult time also brought with it two gifts that would become main focuses in my work:

- an obsession with internalized narratives and especially how they are a lens through which people view us, and also through which we view ourselves and the world around us

- and an interest in creating characters who really see you

Now you see me

While I was working hard at being absent, I was also lucky to be in an exceptional public school system, and when I did show up, I did well. That led to my being recommended for special arts programs: a lithography class at the Smithsonian, a figure drawing class at the Maryland College of Art and Design (now Maryland Institute College of Art).

Here is a drawing I did for the lithography class when I was 16. I remember being flattered that the teacher was surprised it wasn't from a photograph. At the time I had been building my skills making extra money doing portraits of friends to give their parents. But I am embarrassed to admit that for this class, as for the one at MCAD - and typical of me at the time - I attended at first, worked hard, and then never showed up for the last few sessions.


If this has all made it sound obvious I would study to be an artist (once it became clear I wasn’t going to be a jockey), I want to clarify that to me, it wasn't at all. I had many interests, and I was also still struggling with enough family challenges that caring about things felt like a painful and pointless proposition. All this made the path ahead confusing, and I felt overwhelmed by the idea of applying to colleges.

But then, in my senior year, I ran into a friend who had graduated the year before. She told me you could apply to the arts program at Virginia Commonwealth University by setting up an in-person interview, bringing a portfolio and your SATs, and they'd tell you if you got in right then and there.

This was a process that it felt like I could do.

So I set up my interview, and of course I procrastinated and did the entire portfolio the night before. I don't have any of those pieces, but here are a couple of similar ones I did at the time. I went in with no sleep, showed my work, answered a few questions and...I got in.

I was going to college.


I was incredibly lucky to wind up at VCU. I can’t overstate what a transformative experience it was. I learned later that they were the number one public arts university in the States, and in the top ten against private universities too, but I had no idea at the time.

My first year, what they call a “foundation” year, was quite rigorous and purposefully so. It was designed to give you a broad range of skills for whatever major you were going into but also to ferret out the people who were willing to spend a crazy amount of time and effort on their creative work (AKA artists). In just one semester I completely lost my tendency to procrastinate because it simply wasn’t possible.

Here are a couple of my drawings from my freshman year.

Who cares?

I had wonderful teachers who taught me tons of invaluable technical skills, but what made the biggest difference for me was that their main compass turned out to be wanting me to really care about what I was doing. Not just a normal amount, but care a lot, obsessively, and about every part of it.

As I mentioned, I had tried not to care before, but to be honest, I was never particularly good at it. Now in a safe, supportive environment, that all melted away easily, and I became more and more confident at determining what I cared about most and using that as a rudder.

A painter

At one point that fall we had an assignment to do a series with oil pastel inspired by the seven deadly sins. I was not a fan of oil pastel, so I was surprised, as I worked out these loose, kind of gestural pieces, when it felt like I shifted into a different mental gear and things just emerged. And then as I looked at them, I could see how they made sense in a symbolic way I hadn’t even consciously intended. It was my first really immersive experience of that thing all creatives talk about: when something else steps in and makes the work, and then you’re left looking at it, wondering how that happened.

It's funny since I wasn’t even painting, but that was the moment when I first knew I wanted to be a painter because I wanted to keep doing this, and learning from it, forever.


So my sophomore year I went into the painting and printmaking department. I will never forget how it felt painting in oil.

It was completely embarrassing and awful. Coming from other media I was familiar with, and feeling pretty confident with my skills, working in oil was an intensive exercise in humility. It was like having to work with both hands tied behind my back.

Speaking of which, and I’m sure thanks to the wisdom of my instructor about exactly this issue, my first assignment was to do a piece painted with an object instead of a brush or palette knife. I used a twig. No black, no white, and try to create a balanced color field.

Here is the painting I did, my first real oil painting.

Lovely mess

At the end of my first semester painting, after doing a few other technical exercises, we were given free rein on our final canvas to paint whatever we wanted.

I basically made a big mess with paint, taking a palette knife to all that beautiful color, and then turned it around until I saw something I wanted to draw. Then I drew that in paint on top of it. In some ways I would say that’s what I continued to do for the next couple of decades.

Here I am with that painting, and next to it is a technical exercise in underpainting where I used a photo of a green pepper in a sink as a guide.

More lovely mess

As I was getting my footing in oil paint, I was also taking “drawing” classes from one of the legendary instructors at VCU, Gerald Donato. Drawing is in quotes there because we did so many different kinds of work in that class it was almost funny. 3D assemblage, for example.

But mostly I worked in water-based media (ink, acrylic, tempera powder, colored pencil) on large paper. I had a friend who gave me these huge rolls of industrial paper she would get as leftovers from a factory in town.

I would lay down a huge sheet of that paper, pour water and powdered pigments and ink and acrylic on there, and then draw whatever I saw. I remember being surprised to discover there was always something there. I felt very recognized and supported by Donato and enjoyed being able to just disappear into the work.

I also loved that this was similar to my process with painting but with materials I was familiar with, so I felt much more in control of the results.


Having found that fuel of caring, I was very motivated to soak up everything VCU had to offer and was always taking as many classes as possible, as well as interning at their gallery. So, when I heard they had an unusual exchange program to England, I jumped at the opportunity.

It was an off-the-books exchange where I would take the place of a student at an English arts university and they would take my place, but we would still pay and be graded at our home universities. My tuition was covered by Pell grants, so that made a big difference to me because it meant it would be essentially free. You could also apply for a scholarship to help pay the travel costs.

I got the spot the spring semester of my junior year and got the scholarship and took off for a town I had never heard of in the midlands of England: Loughborough.

Out of water

I didn’t know it then, but this trip was the start of a long process designed to take me out of my comfort zone on every level, both as an artist and as a person. Anything my identity had been anchored to that was external, it was all going to go. And then I would get to see what was left.

But at the time all I knew was that it was cold! It was January and it was freezing all the time.

There was no central heating anywhere and no heat at all in the studios. There was only hot water at certain times of day and never enough to shower with. Not enough to fill a bath either. It sounds like a joke about how older people complain, but I’m serious: I had to walk a mile in the snow to do my laundry.

There were also no coffee shops. Instead, everyone socialized at the pub. Which closed at 11. And no one worked around the clock and on weekends in the studio, because the studios closed. You had from 9 to 5 on weekdays and that was it. No student I ever met had a job. It was very strange coming in with my American university go-go-go work ethic and being forced to hit the brakes this way.

I could list all the differences in groceries, communication, dating, etc., but I think the most emblematic example is that we all spoke English, but at certain key moments, no one could understand me. Like when I tried to say my name. My long American A’s meant they couldn’t understand my pronunciation of my very British last name, Harris. Talk about lost identity.


Overall it was very much like a tiny graduate program. I had a studio with the graduate students, and I created a body of work on my own.

I had no classes, but I did meet with Ansel Krut, who was doing a fellowship there, and I basically used him as my only professor, having him come by a number of times to discuss my work and progress.

Since I couldn’t afford oil paint, I wound up doing a lot of mixed media on paper, including some very large pieces, and then creating some assemblage-style sculpture as well. I was exploring how to find a similar process with objects as I did with paint: make an exciting mess, then “draw” on top of it.

Go fish

As if this wasn’t enough being out of my element, I decided to take advantage of the break between terms and cheap travel tickets for students and go to some other countries in Europe with a young woman I barely knew who was also an American studying art in England. We both wanted to travel, so why not go together?

We went wherever we knew someone even the tiniest bit, which turned out to be the Netherlands, France, and Italy. I had a terrible haircut and an ugly coat, but I sucked it up and went all around Europe looking awkward. I mention this last part because it was another great ego/identity destroyer that was part of this whole process.

We had a great time seeing tons of art everywhere and meeting people from many different cultures. I mangled many languages.

Traveling with someone I didn’t know and seeing art from all of these different cultures, meeting people with all of these different values, it was all definitely adding up and giving me a sense of…who am I?

Thanks for reading so far! This page is still under construction, and the story will continue soon…