Buffalo is lucky to have so many talented artists. The city is full of amazing painters, actors, musicians, etc. that produce work in both main stream and underground realms, all of whom help to contribute a vibrant cultural landscape for all of us to enjoy. Some of these artists excel in more than one medium – a painter may also be a musician for example. Rarely do we find an artist with so many different talents that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what sort of artist he or she is. That happens to be the case with John Harris.
When I first met John, about four years ago, he was playing in a band called Thrown to the Wolves at The Yard in Black Rock. At that point John considered himself a professional musician and played guitar, bass, violin, mandolin, accordion, and keyboard (though his passion was guitar). Since that time I discovered that John partially transitioned from the life of a professional musician to that of a jewelry designer – he still plays in a band called Tribal. On top of that John is an author and somewhat of a producer/director… oh, and I don’t want to forget to mention set designer.
From April 2 to April 6, John will be producing a show at Buffalo State College campus called Casting Culture that features his functional metalwork. At the same time, John will be putting on a second performance that will take place outdoors in the Upton Quad. During the running of the show, John will also be launching a book, which the outdoor show is based on. “The entire event is a three-prong situation,” John told me. “There’s the exhibition, the book which is called The True Survivors, and the performance.
“The exhibition consists of metalwork that was made over the past four years for the development of the book. The performance is based on a common theme in the book, which is Life, Death, and Rebirth. We’re actually building a stage that will be used in the Upton Quad, right in front of the Bacon Gallery in Upton Hall. This space has never really been used for a performance before. As far as the book goes, it has been in the works for about four years now and has taken over 10,000 man hours of work to finish. It’s a fictional ethnography about an anthropologist who goes to the future and studies the first post-apocayptic state-level society to arise after mankind is nearly whiped out. The book’s official release date is also April 5. After April 5, the book can be purchased at some Barnes and Nobles locations as well as their website. It can also be purchased on Amazon.”
How would you describe your metal work and how does it tie in with the book?
My metalwork is generally seen as Steampunk. I try not to think of it that way precisely, but I think that’s how it’s viewed. I was the topic of a feature article in Lip Service Magazine last year where they called me Steampunk, and then they ended up doing a big photo shoot with some of my work as accessories to their new fall Steampunk line. Steampunk is a genre and style that focuses on Victorian and Edwardian aesthetics, but combined with steam-powered machines and complex devices. Usually, it’s kind of an alternate reality type of thing, but it also shows up in post-apocalyptic fiction, which is where it comes into my book. Many of the pieces that I make are tools and devices that serve different purposes, and are created both as a functional tool as well as an aesthetically pleasing tool. Since the book is a fictional ethnography, it describes much of the culture of the Lamellain people. This culture is one that I developed from the ground up, bulding different aspects of the material culture of the people. That’s what the metalwork is… it is the material culture of the Lamellain people.
What will the performance be like?
The performance is going to be something that I’ve never really seen in Buffalo. The performance itself is based on French street performances, and is somewhat minimal in concept. There are only two characters, one of which does not speak. They will be performing to a soundtrack that I am composing with another musician friend of mine.
What more can you say about the music?
The music will be a contemporary version of traditional French street music. Accordion, violin, mandolin, bass, guitar, drums, keyboards, and maybe some other little things thrown in. I’ve been a musician for about 15 years now, and this is my chance to bring my music to my art. The performance will feature custom designs all around. I’ve worked at Frightworld: America’s Screampark for a number of years now, both as a designer and actor. I’ve learned a lot about set design and special effects from them, the masters. This experience will be brought into the performance through set design and costume design, with custom masks made of leather, latex, and metal.
John’s work featured in Lip Service Magazine
What would you say to someone who is interested, but might be intimidated that it’s on an unfamiliar college campus? The reason that I ask is that I think there is somewhat of a disconnect between the community and our higher ed institutions.
It can be very intimidating coming to a new campus. I’ve been on several college campuses, and it gets tricky sometimes. But luckily, Upton Hall has very direct and easy access. I will also be supplying and placing signs throughout the campus to assist in directing people. I want to make this something that the entire community can enjoy from top to bottom. Buffalo State College has been very supportive with the planning for this event, and the Campus Police really are amazing people. So no one should feel unsure about the collegiate venue. There are also some great maps on the Buffalo State College website where people can see exactly where they have to go.
Is there a Facebook page? Anything else?
A Facebook event has not been created yet, though it will be very soon. On Facebook, people can either like my company (locally owned and operated!) JPHii Jewelry, or they can like The True Survivors. Both of those will have fairly constant updates on everything.
John Harris | Designs in Metal
Functional Metalwork by
April 2 – 6, 2012
April 5, 6 – 9PM
Performances at 7PM & 8PM in the Upton Quad
234 Upton Hall
Buffalo State College
1300 Elmwood Ave
Buffalo, NY 14222
Lead photo: Bruce Fox