Skip to content
What Sustained Us 2023: Visual Art

Hilary Harkness

My goal is to have a curious mindset while I am painting, but when deadlines are looming and I am drilling down to finish a painting, I can end up in a less ideal fix-it mindset.

In 2023, I found an unexpected way to stay curious: indoor container gardening. In early winter, I planted a couple dozen seeds of different pepper varieties thinking that I might end up with a handful of sturdy Scotch Bonnet plants to give to my Jamaican brother-in-law.

There was always something new to notice in the grow room during breaks from painting. I was inspired by the plants’ ability to thrive and their seemingly effortless productivity. I took that energy back to my studio.

When you plant a seed, it might stay small for a long time, so I kept planting seeds, not realizing that by March many of them would be taller than me and producing a plentiful daily harvest. In mid-May I took the plants outside a little bit at a time to help them get acclimated to bright sunlight and wind.

As summer rolled around, we got ready to go to the BOFFO artist residency on Fire Island. It was there where I’d meet the lovely Ksenia Soboleva, who among others is part of the community of artists, writers, and other creatives who also sustain me. In anticipation of being away, I began running “adoption days” for family and friends to pick up pepper plants. In the subsequent months, I enjoyed hearing their reports of how they were living with the peppers, what they were making and sharing with others.

It was only a few weeks ago that I thanked our remaining plants one last time for their sustaining energy. As I write this and think back on the year, I’m drinking a masala chai infused with dried chilies from my plants. They were vibrant and vital. I can’t imagine 2023 without them. 

Hilary Harkness was interviewed for BOMB by Ksenia M. Soboleva.