Renting out sailboats and kayaks. Caddying golf. Delivering burritos on a bicycle. Clam farming. Wildfire fighting. They may not be career paths in and of themselves, but they are all stops on the road that Harry Day took to becoming an artist.
"I could easily be a surf bum eating fish, but I'd have to be creative somehow," the 36-year-old sculptor and painter says of what drives him beyond the odd jobs he has pursued in the past.
Born and raised in the Jackson area, Day has also lived in Oregon, southern California and South Carolina, but he returned to live in Belhaven in 2003. "You can't beat the quality of friendliness and genuineness in this state," he says. He finds it encouraging to live and work in Mississippi and says you can name top people in every field who are Mississippians, referring to William Faulkner, Brett Favre and Oprah Winfrey to support his claim that it "just feels special" to be from here.
After some experimentation with writing, Day started out his visual arts career in 1997 by painting waves on the coast of South Carolina. People began to barter for his paintings (using beer, food and other necessities), and when he moved to California in 2002, he began selling his work (this time for money) at the Orange County Marketplace in Costa Mesa. As positive feedback on his work grew, and his painting of waves developed into stylized formations of triangles and squares, Day was able to quit his day jobs and focus entirely on his art. With his father as an emotionally—and, when necessary, financially—supportive patron, Day is free to spend his time in one of his two home studios. Day paints inside the house, which he shares with his recent bride, Kristie Ann, and their two very protective wiener dogs, Harley and Henry. Outside, he does his metalwork.
On a nice day, you will surely find this painter/sculptor working in his garage-cum-welding studio in Belhaven, bringing to life another pile of scrap metal, "99 percent" of which he has collected or had donated to him. Only a few little things—a washer here, a bolt there—actually need to be purchased or sought out in junkyards; the rest are the fruits of Day's explorations of abandoned land, railroads and Mississippi highways. With his studio plainly visible from the street, Day gets lots of business from passersby. They may ask the cost of the flowers made from gears, or they may inquire as to whether he can make them yard sculptures like his own. And Day will do it; when desired, he works closely with his clients to custom-design the pieces they will purchase.
One such piece that currently resides in Day's shop is being custom-fitted for Hiram Creekmore, who requested a World War I alien. The wiry creature holds a bomb and a pistol, and boasts a breathing tube that runs from his mouth back around his head. His body is an old toolbox, which opens up in back to shelves that can hold candles that glow through the grates in front. As soon as Day is done with the basic structure of the piece, he will have his client over to "tweak" it.
Day has no artist's contempt for the business side of his work. He shows his wares at the Belhaven Market and at other arts festivals, and he works at the Lott-Stanton Gallery on State Street every Tuesday in exchange for exhibition space.
"You can't just hold onto it. If you want to get your work out there, you have to sell it," Day explains. He claims he would sell any piece for the right price, even the pieces with personal stories behind them. And there are some great stories.
One piece disappeared in Folly Beach, S.C., and a short while later, Day found himself in the living room of the thief, who had set the painting up on a pedestal with lights arranged around it like a shrine. To this day, he is not sure if the new owner knew he was the artist or not, but he couldn't bring himself to ask.
The cactus painting that now flanks the left side of the artist's living room was also stolen in South Carolina. After the disappearance, Day saw the painting on someone's living room wall through the window of their duplex. He marched up to the door, knocked, and told the person who answered that he knew they had something that was stolen and that he was there to get it back. They relinquished it meekly, and the cactus was returned to its creator.
The disappearance stories are not limited to paintings. Here in Jackson, one of Day's metal sculptures, which had been literally bolted to the ground in front of the Video Café, was stolen one night, after having previously been decapitated, hit by a car and used as a public ashtray. While flattered at the idea that someone would actually put that much effort into freeing and stealing one of his pieces, Day still seeks to recover the sculpture.
Day has painted on closet doors, glass windows and solid wood, sculpted out of boxcar brake pads, shovels and bicycles, all in a fury to be original, needing to be creative. His ultimate aspiration is to make it into the art history books among the other greats, but he recognizes that this is a hefty goal.
In the meantime, he will be just as happy if he can support his wife and future family through his art.
"It's a challenge," he says, "but it's worth it."
Check out Day's work on his Web site at http://www.harrymday.com
Great story of perseverance and faith. I have always thought it a weird sense of flattery to have someone want your work so much they would steal it. Day has a great atttitude for not just artists, but all entrepreneurs: if at first you don't succeed (in one location), try try again...even if it's somewhere else.
- c a webb