Kyle Harter

Art has kind of opened me up to see
who I really am.

When artist and cartoonist Kyle Harter moved from Chicago to San Jose in 2013, he was excited about the prospect of living in the Bay Area, but uncertain whether he would find the artistic environment welcoming. 

It was definitely that. “I just feel this great welcoming from the artists in the San Jose area,” Harter says of his recent foray into the San Jose art scene. “Being welcomed with open arms these last couple of months has been a great experience.”

Born in Savannah, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Iowa, Harter turned to art at an early age. His family and teachers supported his creative endeavors, and with that support, his skill and confidence grew. Before long, Harter’s artistic expression became his primary means of exploring the world. “Art is what I went to,” he says, “to make sense of things that were happening in my life.”

Harter first carved out his unique style while pursuing graphic design and illustration at Columbia College in Chicago. He drew inspiration from the likes of illustrator Raymond Pettibon and surrealist painter Max Ernst, but his biggest influence came from his professor, the legendary alternative comic artist Ivan Brunetti. “He taught me a lot of everything, and aesthetically pushed me in a direction I never would have headed on my own,” says Harter, reflectively. “And he taught me that comics are a great medium, one that emphasizes storytelling but also requires a design aspect.”

That alternative comic influence certainly shows in his work, but Harter’s art is a special breed of vulnerability and dynamic figurativism. Many of his pen-and-ink drawings portray unique feelings or personal sentiments through loose and expressive—yet precisely drawn—portraits of animals, people, or situations tinged with a touch of surrealism. These portraits are deceptively simple in message, often exposing intimate aspects of Harter’s life in lateral, unpremeditated ways. 

While he acknowledges that the confessional lens can be “shaky” at times, opening an artist up to reveal more than he intends, personal investigation is what ultimately motivates him. “I like the idea of mapping out the inner world of life and trying to connect that with another person,” he says. “But I think that you have to put yourself out there for a connection to happen.”

As for his current monochromatic aesthetic, Harter isn’t so much concerned with style as he is with content. “The black and white just holds in what I’m trying to represent. I can shift my style as long as there is this familiar feeling in my message.” Individually, his black and white drawings can be appreciated as standalone pieces. At the same time, they can be interpreted as a sort of nonlinear collection of experiences.

Although these drawings represent his most recent public work, Harter made his name through comics and illustration. A longtime participant in the Chicago Zine Festival, Harter has several noteworthy projects in his portfolio. He’s published a number of mini-comics.     He contributed to famed illustrator Ivan Brunetti’s Linework Anthology #4 and #6. And he created the illustrations for Fish Out of Water, a 2009 documentary film about the homosexual aspects of the Bible.

Harter’s major project at the moment is a graphic novel called Boundaries about his experiences, both wild and mundane, as he moved west. Harter considered the move a blessing in disguise, because as isolating as it was, it also taught him a number of things about himself. Art, once a vehicle for exploring and coping with the world, something to be done also because he was good at it, deepened into something more. It became a reflection of his life, especially of the process of becoming an adult. 

“Art has kind of opened me up to see who I really am, and has given me the courage to share that with people,” Harter says. “I take more risks and I’m trying to make things that are authentically me. I’m experimenting with different ways of allowing people to see and experience that. It’s something like surrendering.”

Currently Harter teaches art at BASIS Independent School in Fremont. Though he has his sights set on bigger and better things, for now he’s focusing on the art of downtime. “I’ve been trying to get more comfortable with being bored, which is new to me,” he says with a chuckle.

instagram: kyleharter

Written by Tad Malone

Photography by Arabela Espinoza

Article originally appeared in Issue 9.1 “Find”

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