Plenty of sons follow in their father’s footsteps when it comes to the family business, but for Marc and Alexander Harris, that partnership looks a little bit different — a little more artistic. Marc, aka M.C. Harris, and Alexander, aka A3L3XZAND3R, are well-known painters, each with their own respective styles and followings, but only recently did the two bring their work together in a new way in the sleepy Sonoma wine country town of Healdsburg. This father-son duo has been running The Harris Gallery together for over 20 years, but given their town’s emphasis on wine, it was only natural to bring some wine artistry into the gallery itself.
Marc, who is Alexander’s father, was also born the son of a painter. He studied printmaking at the California College of the Arts, and after graduating in 1972, his first show was with none other than M.C. Escher. But a foray into the world of textiles and fashion design sidetracked him from a full-fledged career in the arts. It wasn’t until he retired early, around the age of 50, that Marc began to paint in earnest. It was right around the same time that his son, Alexander — who was also tapped at a young age for his formidable visual arts skills — was graduating from Florence Academy in Italy.
Back then, the pair turned one of Marc’s early real estate investments, a historic building dubbed The Plaza Arts Building, smack in the heart of Healdsburg’s main square, into a gallery to showcase their work. And after a couple decades celebrating their tenure as two of Healdsburg’s local artistic treasures, they decided to expand into the world of wine, too. “I was piling up paintings at home and my wife Peggy grabbed the paintings, and said ‘Come on, we’re taking them down and putting them in that empty room for you, it’s going to be a nice gallery,’” M.C. tells InsideHook. “I bought the building back in 1993, when Healdsburg was just a wonderful small agriculture town with great wineries, but it hadn’t emerged quite the way it has these days.”
Both men are deeply inspired by the natural landscapes of the area, which has remained mostly agricultural, and despite adopting very different approaches, their work shows well together. “Just generally nature is very influential in how we process things, both of us, and I think that’s one of the reasons why our work, as different as it is, shows well together,” Alexander says. “Similar philosophy and place of origin.”
That’s where the similarities mostly end, though. Alexander works in abstract minimalism, figurative realism and everything in between, specializing in cloudscapes and impressionistic approaches. M.C.’s style is much more modernist, even veering into neo-cubism, with bolder, brighter colors and broader strokes. Since both take nature as their main subject there is common ground, but the younger Harris was obviously deeply influenced by his upbringing out in the country, not far from Healdsburg.
Before he decamped to Italy to study classical realism, Alexander grew up on a remote ranch in the Alexander Valley, and an appreciation for the winemakers in the area stuck with him. “We’ve had the gallery space now for about 20 years,” Alexander says. “But most of the community is an agricultural community that’s always been wine-oriented. I grew up around it, and one of the ideas we thought would be a nice complement to the gallery is bringing in winemakers to showcase their own artistry. So we started curating a wine program and bringing in ‘winemakers as artists’ to put together a program with more of a personal touch.”
Walking into an art gallery can be intimidating, but walking into a wine tasting is a little less so, and the connection between wine and art naturally opens up more conversations and more community-building than the paintings on their own. Alexander’s wife, Leah, is instrumental in curating the winemakers the gallery collaborates with, making the whole setup truly a family affair. With lots of initial guidance from a local elite winemaker, Wells Guthrie — who they’ve dubbed their “resident wine artist” — the Harris Gallery collection now includes over six different varietals and counting.
And every single bottle becomes a work of art itself, adorned with either a painting from M.C. or one from Alexander, as the wine labels are the only time either artist makes prints of their work. Adding alcohol had another surprising benefit: Art sales are now through the roof. “It’s amazing how much people can combine the experience of tasting wine with the experience of enjoying art,” M.C. says. “It turned out to be a wonderful experience, and we’ve been painting madly to try to keep up with the sales we’ve had of our work.”
Of course, that’s a good problem to have, but the other benefit of being a bigger part of the community is more valuable to the family that runs the Harris Gallery in the long run. “The presence of the wine has created an easier approach for people,” Alexander says. “We’re not a staunch gallery, but generally people’s impression of a gallery is to be wary. Adding the wine element has made it so much more approachable and community-oriented. People feel welcomed to just walk through the gallery and look at art.”
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