ROCKINGHAM — Local artist Ty Harris has several of his artworks on display this month in the glass cases lining the left side entryway wall of Leath Memorial Library in Rockingham.
It is just what anyone expects a local library to do — feature the work of youthful talent. The art waits quietly between the shadows of the high ceiling and the cool, tiled floor. It is easy to pass by without looking up. But Harris hopes you do.
Nothing is without meaning in Harris’s work. At 36, he has taught art at Rockingham Middle School and Monroe Avenue Elementary School in Hamlet and has completed countless paintings featuring black women and men. He feels it is important that young black children see people who look like themselves in art.
“I could draw Spider-Man,” Harris said. “But I would rather draw a grandmother on a porch knitting. Some may view my art and think, ‘Well, I don’t like black art.’ But you can’t deny my artistic skill. The term ‘black art’ does not need to exist. It should be just art.”
Harris grew up in Anson County, moved to Rockingham in 1992 and is a 1995 graduate of Richmond Senior High School. His work will be on display at Leath Memorial Library through May 31.
Harris knows well the kinds of walls people can form in their minds; walls that limit a person’s power to change the world through higher thinking.
“We are all present in the eternal ‘now,’” Harris said. “We are with our ancestors and our children all at once. When we tap into that, teaching and creating art is really people knowledge.”
The images displayed at the library this month are like mirrors and windows. There is history in them. There is presence in them. The people are never staring back at you. They are completely absorbed in their time and space. Looking deeply enough, there comes the urgent need to follow their eyes, to see what they see even though it may not be directly represented.
People knowledge, Harris would say.
“Art and life are each about understanding the person, not just seeing them,” Harris said. ” This transcends racial boundaries and the differences between men and women. The only way to hate is to refuse to understand. Love is the highest principle, period. I deal with love, truth, peace, freedom and justice.”
Harris’s moral and visual integrity is so deeply embedded in his art that it becomes an extension of his spirit.
“Art by itself is self-defining,” Harris said. “You are the message you bring. You’re the book. We create history now. When you look at death, but you see yourself as an infinite being, you know that you have your purpose, that you are not just here for whatever. Anger about what happened in the past does no good and serves no purpose.”
In an artist’s heart and mind, colors and dreams unite from a divine spark leading toward oneness, purpose and order, Harris said. Harris has a quiet wisdom, and it shows in the strokes of color, depth and light in his art.
“You have to have a sense of purpose to know what you were put here to do,” he said. “The wolf will take that away from you. Man is mind, intelligence. Man is also spirit and one with the Creator. Without knowing yourself then, you cannot know anything. This is a very ancient principle.”
It is not surprising given his inborn spiritual awareness that Harris seems to be a shaman who heals with art. One of his works was created for a temple to the Prophet Noble Drew Ali; that artwork currently resides in the Moorish Museum in Toronto, Canada.
“Ali was the man who founded the Moorish Science Temple of America in 1913,” Harris said. “He was from North Carolina, but traveled to Egypt, learned the knowledge of self and the real identity of black people in America and returned and taught blacks and others about nationality and living the high principles of love, truth, peace, freedom and justice.”
There are other thinkers who have influenced Harris. Two of these are Norman Vincent Peale (the author best known for “The Power of Positive Thinking,)” and Tom Feelings (award-winning author of “The Middle Passage” and activist for racial equality.)