By Dan Smith
Eugene Harris, or “Geno” as he’s more commonly known, began making his art out of necessity. His apartment needed to be adorned, and he got the idea to start in decoupage while watching Christopher Lowell, the ambiguously gay-fave interior designer on HGTV, do his thing.
Decoupage is simple enough: Affix paper or photos onto a surface and apply ample lacquer. But Geno, whose second art show “Evolution: Colors of My Soul” opens at 4 p.m. on Aug. 15 in Detroit, says he transcends its traditionalism to make it into an art form.
“Nobody does decoupage quite like I do,” he says. “I got the idea while I was watching ‘The Christopher Lowell Show,’ but when he did it, it was only a means of decorating the home. I wanted to change it up and turn it into art.”
Traditionally, decoupage is applying pictures and paper to boxes, chests and precut wood, but the out artist takes a far more DIY approach. The wood he uses is found and cut, sanded and stained himself, and he almost exclusively uses manmade Japanese paper; he’s only used machine-made paper once, on a commission from a client.
His art career launched when he moved to River Park Lofts on Detroit’s west side, an apartment complex he refers to as “a mini-Mecca of art.”
“It was a very inspiring and supportive atmosphere,” he says. “At River Park Lofts, I was surrounded by other artists, singers, dancers, actors. I just felt creative around them. I instantly decided that this was where I was going to live and make my art.”
His decision was cemented when he befriended poet and fellow artist Mychal Noir, who urged him to show his work to Katrina Redd, owner of the Redd Apple Gallery. Impressed by a wall-hanging called “Jambalaya: Series of the Melting Pot,” inspired by the 2003 multi-state blackout, she decided to take the chance and display his work in her gallery. The piece sold within two days.
Since then, he’s peddled more than 40 pieces and has been commissioned to make another dozen, including a table made for local Fox 2 News anchor Charles Pugh.
His success has also prompted others to seek him to instruct his craft.
“I taught a guy who wanted to make something for his girlfriend. A lady, whose son was a little rough around the edges, wanted me to help him harness his talent,” Geno says. “And others just want to watch as I make pieces. Of course I let them. Maybe something in teaching could lie ahead for me.”
His partnership with Noir also has lead to the founding of the Poor Man’s Art Collective, a grassroots organization that uses “guerilla tactics” to assist unknown and upcoming artists in getting their art out in the open – not necessarily just in galleries, but to the public. He says that, in his experience, the art scene is among the hardest to break in to.
“I initially had no idea how to get into selling my artwork, and it got discouraging,” he admits. “Many galleries won’t even look at your work if you have no credentials. So Mychal and I pooled our resources to create the P.M.A.C. There are so many artists out there working from their homes and just looking at their work. We want to help them get it all out there.”
Though he’s created a name for himself, and has helped others do the same in the Detroit art scene, he finds his own work to be slightly confined by his success, saying that he doesn’t often get the chance to make art for himself.
“I used to be so surgical in my approach, but I never tried to make my art look like anything,” he says. “After selling so many pieces, I sort of developed tunnel vision. I felt like I was on an assembly line. It just had no meaning to me.
“But I realized not everything I do is going to appeal to everybody, and that idea freed me up. The art is supposed to be an extension of myself.”
Evolution: Colors of My Soul
River Park Lofts, Iron Street, Detroit