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Meet Zeal Harris of Art Studio Zeal in Baldwin Hills/Inglewood/Leimert Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zeal Harris.

Zeal, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
When I was fourteen, I got hired to draw pastel portraits in Busch Gardens Williamsburg Amusement Park in Virginia. I worked there until I went to college at Howard University in Washington, D.C. I was a working-class southern Black girl, and at Howard, I found myself amidst classy, diverse people of African descent from all over the world. Some of my peers were Chad Boseman, Ta-Nahesi Coates, and Susan Watson. They and other fellow bisons have become quite famous since we graduated. After college, I worked in production for theater, film, tv, opera, events, and awards shows. I worked in various capacities for NAACP Awards, BET, HBO, Nickelodeon and more. I met many celebrities, journalists and politicians during that time. However, what I really wanted most was to tell my own stories. Wanting to work in moving fictional narrative is what brought me to LA, but I ended up feeling more gifted at telling stories through visual art. That is where I began/begin. After getting an MFA in Art, my practice has become that of a teaching, selling, and exhibiting artist.

Has it been a smooth road?
It’s definitely been a road on which I must cut trees and swim through quicksand to move. Entertainment and most other career paths seem like comparatively easy-sailing compared to fine art.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m known for idiosyncratic, urban vernacular, social commentary, African-American themed, narrative painting. I’m most proud of bringing new stories to life or creating fresh takes on known stories and issues. People tell me my unique style and voice sets me apart from others. Series that I’ve recently made address police violence and African-American travel narratives. I’m currently working on two main projects. One is a series called “Bantus of the Black Atlantic”. It is about magical, self-liberated, nomadic, ancestral mothers who symbolically represent the ethnogenesis of African-Americans as they travel through non-linear spacetime. The first of these artworks are paintings presented on fabric.  The other series on which I’m working is called, “I Be Livin’ Black Love”.  I borrowed this title from one of rapper Remy Ma’s freestyle verses.  It’s a series of illustrations about love in daily life through the eyes of some African-American women. I intend for these illustrations to be presented as a book.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
LA is very tough. Someone bent on starting out here will need to make or get into, and almost always be with some group(s) of artist friends. It’s difficult to navigate the art scenes here. One often does best with long-term commitment to art, superior focus, and a high degree of social skills. Talent sometimes seems to matter less. It also helps to have a sizeable quantity of work and an understanding of how to contextualize your work. Most artists must work and commute time/traffic definitely can eat up much of one’s artmaking time. So balancing time and making enough time to make work is the greatest challenge for many artists in LA. More affordable rent controlled or subsidized long-term live/work space for artists would definitely produce a cultural renaissance in LA.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal Photo – Artist Miguel Osuna

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