Amina Harper has been a Minneapolis-based visual artist, freelancer, and published author for the last nine years. Although she was born and raised here, her initial interest in the arts led her to Portland, where she attended Pacific Northwest College of Art. Upon returning to the Twin Cities, she went freelance, specializing in watercolor and acrylic painting as well as occasional illustrations and writing work.
Her pieces are anything but ordinary. The bright colors and bizarre settings catch the attention of an audience. Featuring characters such as wolves, foxes, and cats dressed in human clothing or interacting with humans on a fantasy level, Harper’s work can be described as mostly whimsical, entrapping a lot of emotion within. She also paints everyday items such as fruits and other foods alongside the scenes she paints — mostly incorporated with floral designs. Partnered with the whimsical comes a bit of erotica. Harper uses quite a bit of nude characters, mainly women, sometimes with animal-like features often engaged in low-key intimate situations — such as sharing a kiss. The two characters might be surrounded by butterflies, jewels, or flowers. All indications of moods coming through Harper, personally. The setting always represents something going on within. Her style varies. Often times her canvas is full and others it’s left minimal. There is so much freedom in her work.
Although Harper has a thorough education, she prides herself in being self-taught, mainly in acrylics, which she refers to as a “continuous learning experience.” The medium is also fairly new to her. She describes herself being in a transitional phase in her work, where she is bouncing back and forth between both watercolor and acrylic based paint as her materials. Watercolor, however, was not her first choice. “I became a watercolor painter by accident. I had the materials and I wanted to transition from an ink based medium to something that seemed more professional and mature,” Harper says, “I did not really want to become a watercolor painter.”
When presented with the difficulties of the freelance industry, she offers some great advice to those confronted with the question: Should I attend art school or not? “You should take a business class,” Harper says, “if you want to be a professional artist for the rest of your life, go into marketing. Learn about branding! If you are worried about the technical art skills take something like a draftsman class.” She pointed out that emphasis should be made more on ways to make money and practice art in other aspects of your life. Harper also teaches an Art and Color Theory class with the MPS Adult Enrichment Program and advocates for taking courses to learn the extra skills you feel you need to know for your craft. “Take your sketchbook and just go out into the world and sketch stuff, make stuff, paint stuff and figure all of that out.”
Figuring it out also means figuring out how to get your work seen. Harper is passionate about that topic and always looking for a way to put her art out there. “As a black artist, the thing that we wrestle with is accessibility — accessibility to space, money and accessibility for our community to the thing we make. Something has to be addressed about that. My goal is to always to find ways to have my art be accessible.” For accessibility, Harper does things on commission, offering different options and different prices. She focuses on giving her consumers the best of herself in her work, as well as building her network. The idea is to keep those network relationships flowing like friendships. “Move toward a more equitable, intimate, joyous, community-based form of connecting with people. You get more out of that.” Harper sheds a light on how support systems are truly everywhere in the art community we have in Minneapolis. The time and effort just have to be put into finding those communities.
Khepera and the Scarabs
Harper continues to paint, both with acrylic and watercolor as well. She has a few items coming up on her to-do list (including a collaboration with composer Dameun Strange called The Milkman Project) that entail her other skill sets, such as writing and illustrating for a play. A quote I will leave you with is something that Harper said during our interview when speaking about being self-taught. There is always a way to the top and more often than not it is rewarding to find your own way:
“The hill you climb is steep, but it is a lot better to climb it as you go along as opposed to having people tell you how to climb it and then you to get there and you do not know what to do.”
The artist at working during Art N Motion, a live art-making event hosted by NEMAA during Art-A-Whirl.