Vix Harris is an artist and textile designer from the UK who lives and works in Singapore. She grew up in Kenya and Malawi in Africa as a child and was always surrounded by African memorabilia at home, which has greatly influenced her art and charitable work. Vix has a degree in Textile Design from Winchester School of Art and took on several work placements, including a Crowson Fabrics Scholarship, before she became disillusioned with the art and textile industries and stopped producing art for ten years. During that time she worked and travelled extensively as an English language teacher. In 2014 Vix founded a not-for-profit called Project SEED Tanzania to encourage sustainable living for a small village community in Zegero, Tanzania, a country she has great affection for. Regaining her artistic inspiration, she set up Vix Harris Designs in 2015 and has collaborated with several artists and photographers from the UK and the US since 2016. Vix’s #50RebelWomen series received global attention and she sells her work in Europe, the US, Australia, Canada and the UK. She took the time to answer our artist interview questions.
1. What is the biggest challenge for artists on the Singaporean arts scene?
I think that the focus for developing the arts here is on homegrown talent so I don’t think that there is much encouragement for expat artists to get involved. Generally, I think that the arts still aren’t taken that seriously in Singapore and aren’t considered to be a mainstream interest or legitimate career choice, so local artists seem to become artists despite the lack of general encouragement here. I think that the main challenge in Singapore is that creativity is still not encouraged day to day in school and students are under a lot of pressure to pass exams, so time is spent in the pursuit of earning money for the future rather than on spending time exploring creativity.
2. Who are your biggest influences?
That’s a tough one because I have several:
Egon Schiele because of his ability to convey so much in his use of line. His work had a profound effect on me as a teenager. It didn’t influence my style of art but I can still look at his work and keep looking at it because every aspect of it is perfect.
Francis Bacon for his sense of colour; oranges, reds, turquoise and black. Seeing one of his exhibitions at the Pompidou Centre in Paris years ago is still one of my all time favourite experiences.
Frida Kahlo, not because of her work but because of her bravery, the way she lived and her philosophy on life. Despite being a woman and therefore at a disadvantage in those times, the restrictions she had on her life and because of her poor health she still triumphed, she didn’t let any of that stop her. Inspiring.
Lisa Congdon, because she started producing art later in life and hadn’t formally studied it. She made me realise that I could actually make a living out of art. She has great breadth to her work and she’s very ethical about what she does and who she works with and is also very vocal about her support for LGBTQ and equal rights.
Hassan Hajjaj, a Moroccan photographer who sets up very elaborate, colourful scenes with lots of incredible patterns for his shoots. As a textile design graduate, his work really appeals to me.
3. Finish this line, ‘In five years’ time I want to be making/doing…..’
I’d like to be making pieces from my own photos and to be in a position where I know a lot more about photography. I’d also like to be doing something that is social and community related. Money is not my end goal so I’d love to run meaningful workshops regularly with kids, or in prisons, teaching people about art with empowering outcomes about what’s possible in life, ultimately improving self esteem.
4. What’s your biggest personal challenge as an artist?
At the moment I feel like I don’t have enough time to experiment so I’m restricted in my ideas and I’m also restricted in the space I can use. Maybe that’s just me making excuses, but if I could do this full-time, I’d like to use different materials, sew and print more, like I did at art college. That was a luxury!
5. How would you describe your style?
Surface pattern, lots of colours and flowers and quite stylised. My work is very spontaneous so I don’t plan anything beforehand or draw anything out in pencil. I go straight onto the paper with my pens so the finished pieces are really a series of little decisions.
6. Outside of Asia which country would you like to visit on an art tour or choose to do a residency?
Mexico, I think. First of all for the colours; the blues and rich terracottas. I love cacti and the rusticity of worn, distressed buildings. I think that it all comes from my textiles background. I’d also love to go to Cuba for similar reasons.
7. How do you take risks to reinvent your art/stay fresh?
Using different materials. Recently my work has had strong outlines with black Micron pens and then I switched to watercolour pencils without lines, which make the pieces softer and the colours blend more. Now I’m experimenting with Copic brush pens because it’s interesting to blend them. Like I said before though, with more time and space I’d like to do more lino printing and mess around with different materials without outlines. I’m a little frustrated that I’m not experimenting as much as I’d like to.
8. How do you promote yourself?
Good question! I have a Facebook page, Instagram account, a website and an Etsy shop. I feel I need to do more, maybe start a blog or something. Currently I use Facebook and Instagram the most.
9. Who would you love to collaborate with?
There are a lot of great photographers out there but Eric Lafforgue is one of my favourites. He produces beautiful bright colours in his shots of Africa and his pictures are stunning. He has a great sense of colour and composition.
10. What is your favourite art medium?
I’d have to say at the moment, it tends to be Sharpies because I love the vibrancy and range of colours and they’re so portable. That would’ve been sacrilege in art college and I was considering whether I should use another medium to be taken more seriously but then I thought fuck it! This is me. It would be hard to go back to another medium, like oil, that just takes so much time. Unfortunately though, there is still a real element of snobbery about art mediums.
11. Where do you get your inspiration from?
From walking around Singapore and looking at the shop houses, Peranakan culture and the patterns on tiles. Even something basic like a road marking or a mural or a style of wrought iron gate, the shape of foliage or the patterns on leaves in the Botanic Gardens can give me ideas. I also follow lots of amazing photographers and artists on Instagram and Pinterest too.
12. What advice would you give anyone wanting to break into the arts scene in Singapore?
You need to put yourself out there and spend time visiting galleries and talking to people at opening nights to make connections. It’s a small place and people are genuinely interested in other people so you just have to put yourself out there.
13. What’s the most effective social media platform for art?
14. What drives you to create?
It’s just part of who I am. My mum remembers me being given an empty round Dairylea cheese box as a kid and within ten minutes I’d made it into a pond with ducks in it! After graduating, I didn’t draw for ten years but I was still taking photographs and visiting galleries. I believe that if it’s a part of who you are, then you have to use it.
15. How do you get people to engage with your art?
My series #50RebelWomen started after a ten year drawing hiatus. I was feeling daunted about drawing again and then I started following Lisa Congdon and she talks a lot about drawing everyday as a daily practice. I didn’t really have the time to create the kind of pieces I enjoy doing every day but I thought I could commit to a weekly design so my art would improve. I decided that the subject of these pieces needed to be something I felt really passionate about so I came up with my #50RebelWomen project. I have four nieces and it is important to me that they learn about strong women throughout history. I also requested through Facebook that my audience make suggestions of women I could feature which was a way of getting people involved. I posted a picture of a rebel women once a week for 50 weeks, so almost a year, which gave people time to get on board with the project and get inspired. I also wanted to provide them with some information about each of the women chosen because a few weren’t women everyone knew about beforehand.
Thanks Vix for a great artist interview! You can follow Vix and see her beautiful, vibrant work at www.vixharrisdesigns.com. There are also links on the website to her Instagram and Facebook pages. If you would like to read another artist interview, click here.