Talk of the Town - Into the woods July 01 2004

Spa president relaxes in Buckhead abode

Spa Sydell President Richard Harris' well-furbished home rests on a forest lot, complete with a gurgling creek and chirping birds. Nestled apart from the road in a small wooded ravine, his sanctuary saves him from the corporate world so he can focus on his other passion, painting. Harris' abstract paintings adorn the art-gallery white walls, and natural light flows in through skylights. All this evokes the relaxing essence of a spa.

Harris begins by showing me one of his favorite features of the property, the many Japanese maples. One is more than 70 years old, and flanks a small pond out front. Harris thinks it wise to inherit and take care of established entities, be they trees or beautiful Buckhead homes.

Creative Loafing: I'm surprised you have time to do art on the side.

That's why I go in spurts. When you're passionate about something, you don't have a choice but to do it, so you just do it. You get a little tired in an 8 o'clock meeting. [Laughs]

How long have you been doing formal paintings?

About 12 years. I've always loved modern art and especially the '50s abstract expressionists. I've got a bunch of paintings at the spas, so some things I paint specifically for that. It's not necessarily about matching, but it is about harmony.

So you try to do paintings that create moods?

We have a beautiful environment, so I want something that's going to enhance it or give someone a moment to reflect on where they are.

The dining room is dominated by a large painting of a blue circle surrounded by a collage of green, which could be seen as a metaphor for Harris' own calm sanctuary amid the bustle of Atlanta.

That's definitely representative of some new work. You've got the defined area and things flowing around it.

So when you started painting, did you just start out on your own?

The first goal was just if I could do something that I enjoyed enough looking up at it when it was on the wall. I think the issue with art is that so many people say they have done it at one point in their life or they want to do it, they just have to do it. It's cathartic. It works things out.

In the kitchen we find a picture of Harris with a '70s Afro and disco suit next to a famous diva. Harris was once the manager of a disco called Penrod's.

That's a picture when I was in a restaurant with Cher. That was taken at the Hilton downtown. That era was when I learned how to do promotions and marketing things. That night, this record promoter called me up and said you've got to stop down here. She [Cher] had just cut her hair, and it was her first disco album.

Harris' final piece of advice for those seeking inner calm?

It's never too late to have a happy childhood.