Interview James Harry
By Kleinsteuber
June 15, 2012

What kind of dreams do you have for your future?   

Contemporary Coast Salish Artist
YVR Art Foundation Award Winner

I would like to see my artwork recognized around Vancouver and for it to be seen as a new viewpoint. I would like to let my imagination shine. The YVR achievement award for Aboriginal Students is a start. It is so cool to be able to have an exhibition at the YVR because it is like achieving International recognition.

Quite an achievement for someone at your age, is it not?

Yes, it is. I am very honoured to have received one of the five YVR Art Foundation scholarships given every year to young West Coast Aboriginal artists. The YVR Art Foundation was established in 1994 to encourage to development of First Nations Art. Since then, it has given over $180,000 in scholarships to young artists such as myself and then we get the opportunity to display our artwork at various locations throughout the airport. It is quite exciting and I encourage any young West Coast First Nations Person to check out their website to see if they qualify for scholarship and apply.

James and Austin Harry
YVR Art Foundation Awards 2012

Tell me about the piece you did for the YVR Art Foundation that will be on display

The sleek and modern totem I created out of steel incorporates Coast Salish iconography; the animals, the vivid forms and the flourishes evoke Coast Salish-territory, and celebrate the vibrancy of Coastal Native people. The power of the aboriginal art that welcomes travellers to Vancouver, invites them to begin to consider the cultural integrity that is the foundation of our country. Historically we represented animals and creatures on our totems because we respected them. We utilized every-way of their life if we were to take it. “From Sea to Sky” recognizes the animals as part of our world. Through a contemporary medium–it exists to remind us of our once, rich abundant land. Having a contemporary art piece amongst traditional artworks will present our viewer with a form-pushing representation of our country’s heritage, culture, and diversity.  

What would you say has been the most significant influences on your art practice?

I am, of course, most influenced by West Coast First Nations Art. My father, Xwa-Lack-Tun, is a renowned Coast Salish Artist. I have been influenced by graffiti street artists such as Banksy.

I do a lot of thinking at night. I get all my ideas right before I go to sleep. I think about things that have happened to me in my life. I try to write it down. Some people get inspirations from their dreams but I get mine from thinking. It keeps me awake at night and I often have difficulty getting to sleep. It makes me quite tired during the day and sometimes I fall asleep in class. But that’s just how it is for me sometimes. I can just imagine what some of my teaches must think of me… “Oh there goes James, Falling asleep in class again… tsk tsk”. But really its just because I’ve been processing, you know making art with my mind, all night long.

James Harry
Door Panel

I’d like to say I’ve had an interesting life. I’ve had a lot of things happen. I went to Scotland and I really learned a lot from my experiences there. It influenced my art practice in many ways that I didn’t expect it to. I lived and worked with Gordon Lochhead who has been casting in sliver and bronze metal for over 40 years and making a decent living at it. He showed me how to cast in different kinds of metals. I used his skill and knowledge and integrated that into the work that I do. We had intense discussions about what it meant to an artist and he had very strong views about what he thought art schools should be teaching students. You know, the whole “conceptual” vs “technical skill” debate.




personally think it’s really important that we know how to speak about our work and know what it is that we are creating. I am continuously trying to increase my knowledge with regards to that because it is so important. You can learn technique anytime. I learn by doing.

Where did you train to be an artist?

James Harry
Contemporary Artist

I’m in my final year at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. It is an excellent program. I have been learning about what it means to make my work. My father went to school there in the mid 80’s when it was called The Art Institute and my mother went there in the late 90’s when it was called Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. I guess the school itself has gone through a few changes. My younger brother, Austin, will be starting there this September. We are a family of artists. Not only is it all around me and in my blood but also I am totally supported in my choice to pursue this dream.

James Harry
Scotland Exchange

Emily Carr teaches us that we are to make work that is significant, because it has somehow affected you. Not just because it looks good. We breathe life into our work. I can say why I made a particular line and why I choose to put it across the canvas at that angle. I can tell you why I choose red instead of blue. There is a reason for everything. I look at my art like life. Sometimes I am creating my own life through my art. I can look back and see the mistakes I have made. It’s all there, on the canvas, in the steel, or sometimes simply left in the sketchbook.

* Kleinsteuber 2012


  1. kathy says:

    james dear — thank you. congratulations. inspiring and thoughtful comments. i feel inspired and thinky!

  2. Jim McIntosh - Stoney Creek, ON says:

    James, you have made your parents, your grand parents and your great grandmother very proud of you. I look forward to following your future successes. I look forward to meeting you again and to viewing your work in person in the near future.First i have to retire and come and visit your Grand Mother.

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