Meet the Artist: 5 Questions with Makiko Harris

Meet the Artist: 5 Questions with Makiko Harris

Our "Chromatic" exhibition is in full swing and we want you to get to know the talented artists who are part of it! This week, we're pleased to bring you an interview with abstract painter Makiko Harris. Read more about her practice and work below and then make sure to check out 'Mend Kit', 'Memory Patch', and 'Lavender Fog in the show

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How do you describe your style?

In my work, I use color, composition, contrast, rhythm, and tonality to explore meaning and perception. Currently, I am interested in the use of lines and grids as related to the temporal in painting, color perception and cultural influences on the interpretation of color, the practice of visualizing music and graphic notation, and the relationship between the artist's body and the work they produce. 

Tell us about the specific pieces you're showing in "Chromatic". Give us a bit of insight into your process of creating them and what you hope viewers take away from seeing them. 

The works in "Chromatic" are a continuation of my exploration of visualizing music. In the background of each painting, the viewer might notice stripes or grids. Atop this, I place an assemblage of shapes and marks. These stripes and marks are inspired by the tradition of visual scores, also known as graphic notation, which is a way of visually representing music beyond the structure of traditional music notation. While many practitioners of graphic notation such as John Cage created artworks that were actually "playable" by musicians, my interpretation is more abstract. Using concepts from the world of music such as color, tonality, contrast, and rhythm, I assemble compositions on a surface. What is especially interesting to me about this show is that the word "chromatic" has meaning in the world of both visual and sonic arts. In music, the chromatic scale refers to a scale that includes all 12 pitches available in most western music. Because a given key typically only has 7 pitches, using chromaticism extends the palette or adds "color" to musical compositions. Similarly, chromatic color refers to any color that has a hue (every color except white, grey, or black), which gives artists an incredibly broad palette to work with! 

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What role does color play in your art?

Color is integral to my painting practice. Growing up, I was trained as a classical violinist. Over decades of this training, when learning to play a new work, my teachers would ask me to add color to my sheet music to help me internalize the emotional valence, or color, of specific passages. I literally would use watercolors or colored pencils to "annotate" passages with my personal interpretation of the composition. Sometimes even a single note was a different color from the notes around it. While I was not born with synesthesia, where one perception is involuntarily associated with another, over my many years of musical training, color became integrally linked with sound and emotion. Now, a perceptual awareness that combines color, emotion, and sound is an intrinsic part of my process and intuition-based studio practice.

Just for fun! What's your favorite color?

Bright poppy orange-red! She's bold, fearless, and a little bit irreverent to primary red.

Besides this exhibition, what else do you have going on currently or what are you working on?

I’m currently working on my master’s in Contemporary Art Practice at the Royal College of Art in London, and am working on a dissertation about the the relation between the artist's body and their work. This spring, I'll be in several group shows in London, and this summer, I’m gearing up for a monthlong residency in Portugal, a potential exhibition in Japan, as well as a really exciting solo show of an immersive installation experience in San Francisco, California. Dates and more details will be announced on my Instagram as well as my mailing list, which can be found at

Makiko Harris art contemporary abstract paintings