As a child, Tripp Harrison’s favorite show was Gilligan’s Island. “You know,” he says, “I loved the show, but I never understood why the inhabitants of Gilligan’s wanted to be rescued, and I still don’t.” This sentiment proved the prelude to Tripp’s passion for creating island-inspired paintings.
The creativity of his architect/artist grandfather and high-school teacher and watercolorist, Phil Capen, were early influences for Tripp. Even though he initially majored in computers and accounting at college, Tripp reconnected with Capen who eventually became his artistic mentor. Then suddenly Tripp’s life did a 180 when his grandfather began to lose his eyesight and decided to teach him the process of painting a portrait. “After watching him that first day,” Tripp says, “I was hooked and never stopped thinking about painting after that. Both of my mentors were generous with their encouragement and kind words. They gave me the courage to leave college and pursue a full-time career as an artist.”
Childhood memories of boats, fishing, and exploring islands with his mother’s family in the Florida Keys is still a significant inspiration for Tripp. “I think painting these subjects is partially a way of recapturing those times,” he says. “I never lived in the Keys or the Bahamas, but I spend as much time as I can manage in both places. I enjoy sportfishing and free diving, so naturally, those things emerge in my work.”
The process of a new painting starts in Tripp’s imagination. “I get inspired by the idea of what could happen in a place,” he says. “I love the fantasy of living on a deserted island. The adventure of sailing on the ocean. I love to look at something and imagine what it could be, what could happen, what might have happened. There is always a story in everything I paint. Sometimes it’s about a quiet way of life, a peacefulness that everyone longs for, and sometimes it’s about an adventure. My dad read Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer to me as a kid. I never outgrew those stories.”
The painting process, though, varies according to medium. Tripp’s watercolors move along quickly, but the oil paintings can take several weeks. “I am very conscious of the details in a painting,” says Tripp. “Knowing how much to add and how much to leave out are part of the process. Most of my work is very detailed, but lately I’ve been focusing on a looser style which I’m very excited about.”
The charm of St. Augustine often beckons to artists, and Tripp, his wife Kathleen, and children, McKenzie and Banks, moved here in the early 90s. The family is growing and now includes McKenzie’s husband John, and two dogs, Gracie and Dixie. Tripp finds inspiration all over St. Augustine and says, “You could say there is a painting on every corner. I love its proximity to the water, and of course, the architectural element is unique here.”
If the island lifestyle calling your name, you can view Tripp’s work at his downtown gallery or you can make a trip to the Geoffrey Smith Gallery in Stuart or the Key West Gallery in Key West.