Randi Harris, 29, grew up in Emporia, Kan., and was heavily involved in art in high school, though she never thought of it as a potential career.
She went on to receive a computer programming degree from Kansas State University and she worked odd jobs while doing art on the side. While living in Joplin, Mo., and studying art education, a catastrophic event had her rethinking her life.
On May 22, 2011, Harris survived a massive tornado with her back against a wall and a cat in her lap. When the storm had passed, the surrounding neighborhood was flattened.
“Debris and bodies were everywhere,” she said. After that, she was constantly wondering how she survived. “After the experience, I started painting a lot more,” she said. “And I became quite certain that I’m not done; there’s something I’m supposed to do.”
Harris moved to New York City with a boyfriend and worked for 3-D pop artist Charles Fazzino. When Harris’ boyfriend moved on, so did she – to Spokane, where the self-proclaimed nerd had friends she had met through online gaming.
Now, she has a day job at Sears and she paints and draws using an array of media including acrylic markers on canvas or newspapers. Her work includes a series of birds that fly both alive and after death, carried by the wind, and a series of trees and power poles, similar yet different.
Her work mixes the natural world with the man-made, memories from the aftermath of the tornado when she came upon trees and metal twisted together until they were one.
“With a majority of my art, I have taken the design of a man-made object and given it back its organic nature with wavy, erratic lines,” she said. “This can also be done with combining a man-made design as the backdrop of a nature scene. It is all about combining the two elements together: man-made and nature. We as humans take from nature, only to be given back to nature, so in a sense, it’s a great cycle.”
As a survivor, Harris is plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder, but creating art allows her to express her emotions and fears, and share them with others.
“Like most humans, when our mortality is tested we strive to place a lasting mark in our world. As an artist the way to do that is simple: we create,” Harris said. “It’s about doing what makes us feel good, what gives us purpose, and what gives us breath.”
Harris’ first exhibit of her work is on display at Pottery Place Plus in the Liberty Building in downtown Spokane. It will remain there through November. Simple yet stunning, her pieces somehow emulate the beauty, strength, fragility, and commonalities of the natural and man-made world.