RALEIGH — For months, artist Abie Harris has been sorting through sketchbooks and old files, preparing for the show that will celebrate six decades of his work.
There are sketches from his days as a student traveling in Europe, drawings of N.C. State from his time as one of the university’s top architects, and paintings he has done in recent years as he explores new mediums.
Harris said that while the subjects and styles vary, all of the work has been a form of expression for him.
“Drawing really has been my language,” he said.
To mark Harris’ upcoming 80th birthday, the Roundabout Art Collective will hold a retrospective exhibit featuring his work, curated by Charlotte V. Wainwright. The show, “Visual Thinking,” opens for First Friday at the gallery at 305 Oberlin Road.
Harris also will open his home studio at 222 Hawthorne Road to the public from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. An additional gallery talk by Harris and Wainwright will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 19 at Roundabout.
One of Harris’ earliest memories of drawing comes from when he was in sixth grade in Elkin, and his teacher asked him to draw the interior of the broken penny-weighing apparatus at the local Rose’s Five and Dime, where her friend was the manager.
Harris spent two days on the drawing, which was sent off to the manufacturer to determine what was wrong with the machine. Harris was paid with a big bag of candy, but he also earned a valuable lesson in what he was capable of as an artist.
“I think I realized there was a future in drawing,” he said.
Harris went on to attend N.C. State’s College of Design. After graduating, he won the Paris Prize in Architecture, which allowed him to travel throughout Europe and study in Paris.
When he returned to Raleigh, he worked as an architect, and in 1966 he was hired to help transform N.C. State’s campus. During 32 years at the university, Harris contributed to 60 building projects that added 3.5 million square feet to the campus.
Harris said that during his tenure he grew to most enjoy coming to the conceptual side of campus planning more than the nuts and bolts of building design. He liked the art of campus planning, of figuring out how energy and activities would flow through the campus.
The show includes his first conceptual plan of N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, as well as examples of his design work for other colleges and universities.
Since retiring, Harris has found time for other mediums – oils, acrylics and collages all are part of his repertoire. He’ll often work with one subject over and over, working to quickly capture its essence and then seeing what he can find new in each repetition.
“I really enjoy being able to work myself to a point of expressive freedom,” he said.
The subjects he has painted often include music, such as his interpretations of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” and the view from his family’s longtime home in Blowing Rock, known as the Globe Road series.
The exhibit also includes Harris’ renderings of historic Raleigh buildings and a series of teapots.
After so many years of work, Harris said he still finds new things to explore – and he hopes viewers of the show will find something interesting in whichever of his works most strikes them.
“It is my way of communicating ideas,” he said.