Bank RI Gallery

about the gallery

The BankRI Gallery is a public exhibition space showcasing the distinctive works of contemporary artists living and working in Rhode Island.

Since 1998, BankRI has proudly celebrated the talent and vision of Rhode Island visual artists with three branch galleries. To this day, the bank continues to support and laud the efforts of Rhode Island’s creative community. The galleries are popular exhibition spaces, with exhibits rotating on a monthly basis.

The BankRI Galleries are curated by Paula Martiesian, a Providence-based artist and arts advocate. See her work at

One Turks Head Place
Providence, Rhode Island, 02903

Mon–Weds: 8:30am–4pm
Thurs–Fri: 8:30am–5pm

Wheelchair Accessible

September press release

The BankRI Galleries present:

Paintings by Karen Harris, September 5 through October 2

September 19 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. with light refreshments and live music by Mark Armstrong.


When the young Jamaican girl stepped off the PanAm jet onto the tarmac at Greene Airport, her first thought was that the air smelled “different.” There were no warm Caribbean breezes, no turquoise blue waters – only the cool, grey green palette of New England. Karen (pronounced Kah-rin) Harris had touched down in Rhode Island.

Today, Harris is a painter and watercolorist who works at the Rhode Island School of Design as an internship manager and career advisor. Originally from Jamaica, Harris immigrated to the United States when she was 10 years old. She attended Saint Xavier’s school, graduating early when she was just 16. Harris was accepted to college at both RISD and the Parsons School of Design. Opting to move to New York City, she choose Parsons, but the energy of the school and the city challenged her, and she could not sleep.

Harris found herself back in Rhode Island, her place at RISD taken by another student. She attended Rhode Island College for a year before transferring to RISD and studying illustration. She credits the late Tom Sgouras, an accomplished illustrator and painter, with giving her the tools to become the watercolorist she is today.

“I can feel the transparency and layering,” says Harris when she speaks of watercolor. “I see the negative spaces and the accidents waiting to happen. Tom opened up that world for me.” After graduation, Harris wanted to see the world. Five days into her grand tour, exploring the streets of

Bristol, England, she locked eyes with a young man. At the very same spot on two more occasions, she ran into him. Her fate was sealed when she walked into a used bookstore and unknowingly bought an atlas that used to belong to him with his name written in it – David Harris. Their first date lasted twenty- four hours. “It was as if we had known each other forever,” Harris explains, “and we were just catching up.” A year later, he came to America and they were married.

Harris has always been an overachiever of sorts, an accomplished juggler – of careers, family and making art. She has had an impressive array of jobs including account executive, assistant art director, caterer, colorist, graphic designer, illustrator and teacher. “If you’re Jamaican, and you only have one job,” Harris says, “ You’re no good.” She and her husband even started their own company Harart Designs, which focused on jewelry inspired by Native American petroglyphs. They started a family and raised two sons.

Somehow through all the activity, Harris managed to keep her hand in making drawings and watercolors. “I would make moody portraits of myself,” Harris explains. “Every time I walked by the bathroom mirror in my studio, I’d do a quick sketch.” Her husband loves to garden and Harris finds inspiration in the magical green spaces he creates.

The paintings shown at the bank galleries are based on the banana leaf, a plant commonly grown in Jamaica. After a trip to Jamaica to mark their 25th anniversary, Harris’ husband David bought her a small banana tree. The leaves fascinated Harris. She began to collect the leaves when they fell. As the leaves dried, they changed color and shape and cast unique shadows on the walls of her studio.

Harris began experimenting – making paintings of the leaves, painting the leaves themselves and dipping them in buckets of varying solutions in hopes of preserving their fragile shapes. At times she used the painted leaves to make prints – painting the leaf, pressing it onto to the paper to create a mirror image.

The paintings are fluid sketches of the natural world. The colors are both bold and subtle, the space expansive and wide open to possibility. The strong sense of color almost dominates, but it is the idea of the surrounding white space that reverberates. There is a sense that these artworks are not finished pieces, but stepping stones to another world, a combination of Harris’ Jamaican heritage and the green New England gardens that surround her home.