Local Celeb: Chris Harford

Princeton Artist Chris Harford Bridges Painting and Music By Lynn Cline for PrincetonScoop


Chris Harford has been painting for most of his life. As a kid growing up in Princeton, N.J., he either had a paintbrush or guitar in his hands. An acclaimed artist and musician, Harford is  a beloved singer/songwriter who has traveled the world, painting his unique visions of all that he’s seen.

Harford’s work belongs to collections around the world, from Moscow and Munich to Quito, Zurich, London, Santa Fe and numerous other places. He has shown his paintings in galleries across the globe, and performed at festivals, clubs, galleries and many other venues, including the 2011 Bonnaroo Festival.

He has released nine albums, and many of them feature his whimsical paintings and illustrations, including his most recent recording, Looking Out for Number 6. Currently he’s recording a new album with his band, The Band of Changes, a revolving door concept of more than 50 musicians that includes members of famed bands such as Ween, and Further.

Harford began playing guitar in high school, and formed a popular band, Random Joe & The Strillards, while there. In college, he  founded Three Colors, a Boston-based band that became hugely popular in the 1980s and signed on to a record deal that took them to London for a year.

Harford graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art with a degree in Performance Art. He had  his first art show at the gallery of the famed punk rock club CBGBs, in 1990. Since then, he’s exhibited his work at The Gerald Peters Gallery in New York City, the Michel-Shlumberger winery in Healdsburg, Ca., J.P. Kline’s Gallery in Lambertville, N.J. and numerous other sites.

He has also spent time recording in Switzerland, where he lived for a year in Zurich while his daughter was going to school there. He played some shows and exhibited his work, and was embraced by the music and art community while there. And he lived in a tiny mountain village populated by just 12 people near Imperia in northern Italy, where he painted and wrote music.

Harford’s paintings are filled with brilliant colors, primitive shapes and simple subject matter that call to mind the works of Chagall, Matisse and even Picasso, although they reflect American culture with their depictions of birds, dogs, trees, lovers, musicians and mother and child scenes.  Viewing these works immerses us in a moment of calm contemplation, where we can quietly ponder what it means to be human in the modern world.

“Painting is a very peaceful, meditative process,” Harford says. “It’s different from making music, where I’m having a conversation with the other musicians or an audience. But whether I’m painting or writing music, I’m creating an image.”

Indeed, the images are distinctive and vivid, reflecting a lifetime passionately devoted to exploring the nature of what it means to be human, often from an isolated perspective. His inventive vision fills each canvas – whether it be a hewn log, ceramic vessel or sturdy piece of paper – with a supremely honed eye for sublime details we often miss – the swoop of a lone bird’s wing, the solitary journey of a man in a boat on a nighttime sea, the loneliness of a guitar player on a stage cast in shadow. These are all visions from an artist who knows how to paint and sing his feelings into life, whether on a canvas or a recording.

“Perhaps I’m dealing with the age-old questions — why we’re here, what are we doing here, who am I, where are we going and can I leave something tangible behind,?” he says.

Harford is reticent to link his painting and music together except to say that they share a common goal. “Both  painting and music conjure images and strive to create a mood,” he says. “But painting and music, are precisely the opposite of using words. They are anti-words. It’s an honor if someone comments or feels something about them.”

In addition to painting and making music, Harford is a lacrosse coach who has worked with teams around the East Coast, including, most recently, the men’s Princeton High junior varsity team. He plays regular gigs in the tri-state area, including the Small World Café, John  & Peter’s in New Hope and the Lakeside Lounge in New York City. And he’s just back from playing two sets at the famed Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tenn. Harford’s new work is currently on display at Vineapple, in Brooklyn and ArtSpace, sponsored by HomeFront. For more information, visit www.chrisharford.com.

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