Dustin Harewood is as magnanimous as he is busy. As a visual artist, curator, and arts educator he has spent years co-creating, sustaining—and as a teacher —developing the Northeast Florida arts scene. Even in conversation, his views on the Jacksonville arts community are more encouraging than critical; although he isn’t one to mince words regarding the hit-or-miss quality or trend-eager sensibility that can distract, even delude, local artists. But quite frankly, Harewood is too preoccupied with his own work to worry about what his peers are up to.
The dividends are evident. Last year was Harewood’s best for paintings sold. Even his “downtime” spent with his family usually includes some kind of mural work for the 40-year-old Harewood. Each year the New York City-native and his wife Yuki, and children Mei and Hinata, take family trips: visiting either her homeland of Japan, or Barbados. Harewood’s family is originally from that Caribbean archipelago and he spent the bulk of his childhood in the parish of Christ Church, located on the southernmost tip of the Commonwealth nation.
This blend of education, both acquired and shared, collective familial heritage, travel, experience, and the images that they evoke all fuel and populate Harewood’s pieces. His upcoming show, Warm Rain and Electricity, features all-new work, developments of his signature albeit malleable style of visual mashups of nautical items, abstract splashes of color and grids, rising and falling patterns, and glimmers of pop cultural shout-outs.
“I’ll be showing roughly about 15 new pieces,” says Harewood of the new exhibit. “These new pieces are surely illustrative but there’s that fine line between being too ‘literal’ and creating an abstraction where people try to decode every inch of the work.”
This knowledge was no accident. It was a kind of third element that rose out of two distinct factors: his life as an artist who also teaches.
“I’ve realized from teaching design for nearly 15 years now that for me it almost narrows down to composition-making and composition-making is a huge thing that drives me. So it took me years and years of both making and teaching art to have that kind of ‘white light’ realization.”
When Harewood talks about things like “proximity” and “a continuous plane,” it seems to allude as much to the mystical as the practical.
“If I map out the sections of a triptych, I might get caught up on being a ‘presentation artist.’ But on the flip side of that, I will start considering just the actual placement of each canvas, and the negative space of the actual wall and the canvases,” says Harewood, likening these kinds of concepts to a philosopher-scientist. In the purest form, he is a mixed-media artist who seems content in not worrying about the results of that very mix. “So then it blows up into this bigger thing of composition, of all of these implied relationships.”
The recent piece Storms is indicative of this marriage of unyielding framework and roiling cloudbursts of reds, blacks, whites; a kid of aerial garden exploding and reassembling in a tan sky-scape.
Key to Harewood’s creative force is in utilizing this knowledge of both the gross and subtle emanations of design, harkening back to more esoteric truths of Fibonacci spirals and Black Elk’s “sacred circle” vision rather than indoctrinated eye-pleasing placement. His visuals of choice can include signifiers and graphic shards that reflect back everything from Japanese courtesans to C-90 cassette tapes.
For the opening reception of Warm Rain and Electricity, the VyStar parking deck will be opened up to the public for parking and will also feature new murals inside and on display by Mark Ferreira (Cent), Remi Rough, Ryan Coleman, Jason Woodside, Golden, and Urban Ruben. Harewood is quick to thank Jessica Santiago, she of Art Republic fame (or for some, infamy) for presenting the exhibit at the tower. In addition, he considers Cora Cohen and Tonya D. Lee as “major influences” on his abstract paintings.
While Warm Rain and Electricity might touch on an elemental theme, the show is essentially the latest offerings from an area artist-teacher that remains as inscrutable as it is inclusive.
“It’s an idea of personal biography,” says Harewood, which seems like a telling statement. Rather than proclaiming himself as memoirist, Harewood has stepped back from the story. In lieu of the played out, if not annoying phrase, of “empowering one’s narrative,” Harewood seems more interested in watching the saga play out as a viewer; not the narrator.
“In Japan, I’ll get newspapers. I can’t read them because my Japanese isn’t that great and buying them also reinforced, in a helpful way, of feeling like an ‘alien.’” he says with a laugh. “So over time I started introducing them into my work. It’s these kind of patterns that show up in what I do—but I don’t always know the outcome, either.”
The opening reception for Warm Rain and Electricity is held from 6-9 p.m. October 26 on the 13th floor of the Vystar Credit Union Tower, 76 S. Laura St., Downtown; post-reception work can be viewed by appointment only. The show will also be opened to the public during downtown’s First Wednesday Art Walk from 5-9 p.m. November 6. Exhibit runs through the end of November.
Other arts happenings we’re psyching on:
Maria Daitch’s “Coalesce & Undefine” @ Bold Bean Jax Beach
Maiya Elaine’s “Breach” @ Brew 5 Points
Shikeith’s “Imagining Flesh Through Shadows” @ JU
Through Our Eyes group show @ The Ritz Theatre and Museum
Alma Ramirez’s “By the Water” @ CAP
Jenny Hager-Vickery’s”Monumental Miniatures @ JIA
Madeleine Peck Wagner & Christine Chandler’s “Things of Flesh, Things of Spirit @ FSCJ
Book Launch: Tim Gilmore’s Channeling Anna Fletcher @ Karpeles Manuscript Museum
This profile originally appeared as part of a feature called “The Art We’ll Need in 2019-2020” in Void Magazine Vol. 10, Issue 6.