Meet the artist: A Conversation with Frank Harris

Our staff loves Halloween. There’s just so much to appreciate this time of year, everything from spotting Pittsburgh-themed costumes (if you haven’t yet seen Pittsburgh Personified’s Pittsburgh Potty outfit rec, go to their Instagram account immediately) to spending today listening to Rosemary Welsch’s annual WYEP Halloween Show.

A Pittsburgh twist on Edvard Munch's Scream painting
Illustration by Pittsburgh artist Frank Harris

That’s why we decided to make our annual development campaign themed around the spooky holiday. While we greatly appreciate your donations (and think you’ll really dig what we have planned for 2024), we also hope you’ll appreciate our locally sourced Halloween-themed artwork.

What’s scarier than a world without art? Just the thought makes us scream.

When we came up with that language for our fall development campaign, I immediately knew I wanted to hire Frank Harris to create a Pittsburgh twist on Edvard Munch’s Scream painting. The artist and I have a long history of creating Pittsburgh-themed twists on famous paintings together during my time working at an alt-weekly where he created several parodies of Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

And, as his portfolio can attest, Frank can also paint the hell out of a Pittsburgh bridge.

To celebrate his incredible artwork, we spoke with Frank about his beginnings, his Pittsburgh-themed illustration, and advice he’d give to emerging artists looking for similar opportunities:

The artwork you created for us depicts a Pittsburgh take on Edvard Munch's Scream painting to illustrate the idea of someone being terrified of the arts vanishing. What part of Pittsburgh's arts and culture sector would you most be afraid of losing?
I would hate to lose anything in Pittsburgh’s cultural scene, The Warhol, or any of the museums or galleries, like the Zynka Gallery or the James Gallery. Anything in the performing arts would be awful, too. We need more cultural attractions in Pittsburgh. Man does not live by football alone.

Your portfolio features even more incredible artwork based on famous artworks. What's your favorite Pittsburgh subject to paint?
I really enjoy painting the bridges in Pittsburgh. I did a version of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, with Pittsburgh as the subject. People really love that print and I think it’s because of the way I distorted the bridge in the painting. It’s all wavy and distorted, and I’ve done several other images of Pittsburgh with distorted bridges.

A white man with a goatee and short grayish brown hair wearing a black shirt and a gray jacket
Pittsburgh artist Frank Harris

What inspired you to first become an artist?
As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be an artist. I think the thing that drives it is that if you become a famous artist or if one of your works ends up in a museum, it gives you a kind of immortality. And I think that drives me a little bit. I guess I just want to be able to say I left a mark in this world.

What's been the most rewarding thing throughout your career thus far?
I’ve enjoyed some success here and there. I’ve shown in museums, I’ve done illustrations for major corporations, Major League Baseball, and many magazines. But the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is just doing the work. When I’m working on a painting or an illustration, I get lost in the work and time kind of disappears. When I finish, I realize that a day has gone by and I just been working and enjoying it.

What advice would you give to emerging artists in Pittsburgh who are looking to thrive in the city's artistic community?
I definitely think there’s way more opportunities now for artists in Pittsburgh than there was when I started. I graduated in ’82 from Carnegie Mellon and it was still really a steel town and didn’t have as much culture as there is now. A new artist should just keep going and find their own voice.

Love Frank’s artwork as much as we do? Stay tuned – he’ll soon have prints available for sale on his website.


Artist Profile