Zeal Harris is an exhibiting visual artist currently based in Los Angeles. She is known for creating colorful, narrative artwork that mixes painting with drawing while experimenting with various media. Her style ranges from political-cartoony-caricaturesque to urban-folk-vernacular. The feeling of story is often present in the artwork whether the characters are moving through space and time or whether they are a feature in a “slice of life” moment.

Photo credit: artist Duane Paul

In Zeal’s personal life… relationships, making art, exploring the stuff of spirit, community service, and doing work all overlap. Having experiences, reading stories (—including histories) listening to people’s stories, imagining stories, and telling stories are components of the personal story bank from which Zeal pulls to create much of her artwork. Particular emphasis is also placed on reading from the canon of African-American literature.

For the past couple of years, Zeal has deeply been living life, traveling, and teaching both Art and African-American Artistic Studies as a professor. The main focus of her most recent research and travel has been to sites of marronage in the Americas. Maroons are communities of people of African descent who ran away from slavery or got free and purposefully lived in marronage as they created antislavery societies. Her research on this topic is interdisciplinary as it encompasses various Africana Diaspora Studies topics.

Location: Gallery 825 in West Los Angeles

Early Life

Zeal grew up in southern Virginia, in a small town named Phoebus that is adjacent to a well known historically black college (HBCU) named Hampton University. Zeal participated in youth programming on the campus from the time she was a tween until she enrolled into Howard University in Washington, D.C. (a rival HBCU) with an extensive history of producing famous African-Americans in the Arts.

In Zeal’s youngest years, the two main things she remembers doing were making art and reading books. Her Great Aunt whom she called "Mama", and the customers and friends of Mama’s soul food cafe encouraged her to grow up to be an artist. Her mother, a great-uncle, and “Papa” (a close friend of Mama’s) often brought her art materials including oil paints. Zeal’s first job at age fourteen was drawing portraits and caricatures in the local amusement park (Busch Gardens in Colonial Williamsburg) after an art teacher (Coach Doyner) suggested she apply.

In between her first job and her current college teaching, Zeal also attended graduate film school for a short time at UCLA. She did various production jobs in theater, opera, television, news, and awards shows in Washington DC and Los Angeles. Some companies at which she worked included BET, Arena Stage Theater, HBO Films, and Nickelodeon. There was also a stint of working as an Art Consultant. All of these experiences continue to contribute aesthetic inspiration to Zeal’s work.

“Gods always behave like the people who make them”

- Zora Neale Hurston