Silas Harper Bray has changed significantly over the last few years.
The change is apparent in the contrast between two different paintings they’ve done. One took 40 hours of painstaking attention and intention, while the other was an improvised work with more freedom to become anything.
“This was still sort of living in that world where I had this strict idea of who I had to be and where I wanted to be,” Harper Bray said. “And this is sort of, ‘Whatever, life’s good. Life’s fine.’”
They said they feel happier now than they did before.
“I wouldn’t say that I don’t care. I care, but it’s a lot less of being annoyed if things don’t go the way that I plan,” Harper Bray said. “I feel a lot more Zen.”
Going to the University of Idaho aided that transition, as Harper Bray said they learned how to better communicate with people who don’t agree with them. They said a successful conversation with their Christian and conservative mother about Islamic people helped exemplify that personal arc.
“So I thought that was kind of nice because when I was 16 I would have just flipped out like ‘That’s racist,’ because it is, but that’s not a helpful way to have that conversation,” Harper Bray said.
Harper Bray will graduate in December with a degree in art and studio design, and said their art history classes taught them the most.
“They not only taught me that I don’t know anything, but taught me how to think about things, which I think is probably the most important skill that I’ve gotten from the university,” Harper Bray said.
Their capstone project was a collection of large embroidered and painted pieces of fabric made for specific people. Harper Bray said fabric surrounds people’s lives — in clothing and rugs and favorite childhood blankets.
“The idea was to figure out how to represent somebody through fabric,” Harper Bray said. “I wanted to find a way to de-commercialize those things and really express an identity.”
They said this was the most challenging project they’ve done.
“Painting is sort of selfish in a way,” Harper Bray said. “Like, ‘I have this great thing to say, now let me say it through whatever.’ But taking somebody else’s identity and trying to sort of put that into a container of expression or something that made sense to them was a lot more challenging, because I had to figure out where my bias lies so that I could kind of be in between.”
After graduating, Harper Bray said they want to join the Peace Corps or become a river rafting guide.
“I love sports and outdoor things. It’s better when it’s shared with people,” Harper Bray said.
Cody Magee was in senior studio with Harper Bray. He said they are good friends and thinks Harper Bray’s future offers many opportunities.
“I think (they’re) going to be sort of a nomad just traveling around doing their thing, working here and there, doing what (they) can. Really kind of experiencing life and finding what’s important to (them,)” Magee said. “I think it’s awesome, like ‘You do you, Boo.’”
Magee said helping other people and making them happy is fundamental to Harper Bray.
Despite looking into jobs that have little to do with art, Harper Bray isn’t concerned about the future.
“I’ll be a maker anywhere I go, even if it’s not the focus of what I’m doing,” Harper Bray said. “There’s a beauty in a sketchbook. It’s very small and all you need is a single pen.”
There is often a mismatch in the interpretation of a piece of art between its maker and its audience, but that doesn’t worry Harper Bray either.
“I actually find it beneficial in a way,” Harper Bray said. “Regardless of what I intended, I think it’s kind of beautiful that everyone gets to interpret it in their own fashion. It opens up conversations that you probably would have never had. It sort of speaks to the fact that there isn’t one truth, and that’s sort of the beauty of art.”
While they said their time at UI has been enjoyable, Harper Bray said they are ready to be done with the studio and move on with their life.
“I think that the world is a good place and that we all have an important role in it and it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do what we want to do in a way that uplifts us and other people,” Harper Bray said.
Jack Olson can be reached at email@example.com