‘It’s like a living installation’: a young family’s Fear and Loathing portrait

In our series on artworks in Australian homes, Clarissa and Tim Harris show us the gonzo painting they commissioned, which will grow with their family

When Clarissa and Tim Harris bought a treetop hideaway in Warrandyte, Victoria, they couldn’t wait to fill the space with their collection of colourful curiosities and art. But they say the new chapter also called for something more intimate.

“Moving into our new home, we really wanted a personal piece that represented the elements of our family and our style.”

The first piece they hung on the wall when they moved in earlier this year was a surreal, Fear and Loathing-esque family portrait they had commissioned from Byron Bay artist Mlak – real name Karlee Mackie.

Tim, a visual artist, found Mackie’s work on Instagram a few years ago and says he knew pretty quickly her knack for “whimsical Australian gothic” suited them perfectly. “And we’d made a conscious decision during the pandemic to support local artists,” he says.

While the couple have never met Mackie in real life, giving her the creative freedom to interpret their vibe through their social media friendship was part of the fun.

“I love that we didn’t have to tell her anything and she pieced it all together from the bits and pieces she knew of us,” Clarissa says.

A colourful painting of a car, crocodiles, aliens, cacti and flowers, hanging on a white wall
Crocodiles, aliens and cacti, oh my! ‘It just felt so familiar straight away,’ Clarissa says. Photograph: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

Their penchant for cacti and classic cars would have been obvious from their socials. But other elements, like the crocodile and the alien, felt uncannily on point.

“When we got it, it just felt so familiar straight away,” Clarissa says. “Tim’s actually got a tattoo of a crocodile, and it’s my favourite animal! And I love that she’s painted me as an alien! As a kid I was obsessed with them.”

The huge painting (which is substantially bigger than planned thanks to a happy mix-up about dimensions) is an irresistible backdrop for impromptu photoshoots at house parties, quickly solidifying itself among friends as a (literal) hallmark of the young family and their vibrant personal taste.

Clarissa and Tim Harris and their child stand in front of the Mlak painting in their home
The Harris family hope the piece will become an ever-evolving family portrait. Photograph: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

The project has flourished into a friendship and the families are looking forward to meeting each other in Byron over summer. “And if Karlee ever visits us, she’s keen to add to the work as our family grows,” Tim says. “It’ll be like a living installation.”

Despite the work’s wacky aesthetic, Clarissa says being greeted with it each day as she goes down the stairs is “grounding”.

“It reminds me – as cheesy as it might sound – that we are a team, and we’re on this adventure together.”


Doosie Morris

The GuardianTramp

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