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Obituary of Robert James Harkness
Our precious son and brother, Robert James Harkness, passed away the morning of March 19, 2023, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was born on June 15, 1989, to Dwayne E. and Alice T. (Schilter) Harkness in Olympia, Washington, and was raised there.
As a youth, Robert was exuberant and active with an engaging personality. Family was very important to him. He was especially close to his older brothers, Luke and Justin. He loved family gatherings and vacations that involved travel in the U.S. and abroad. Robert was proud of his Swiss heritage and enjoyed attending many Swiss festivals and celebrations. He had lots of friends with whom he spent many happy times. Many of those relationships remained close throughout his life.
From an early age, Robert had a strong faith in God. He was active in the local high school Young Life program, was confirmed in his Catholic faith, and participated in Campus Crusade for Christ while a college student. As an adult, he attended mass frequently. He pursued growth in faith and spirituality throughout his life and had a compassionate heart for the poor and the suffering. Robert loved with reckless abandon. He was especially generous to people he would encounter on the street, the homeless, mentally ill and drug addicted, engaging fearlessly whatever the person’s circumstances.
Robert was born with clubfoot, a birth defect that required his lower legs and feet to be casted shortly after birth, and several corrective foot surgeries in his early childhood years. Despite that disability, he was a perseverant, highly competitive and talented athlete and loved sports, participating in baseball and football throughout his youth. He lettered and was a proud defensive back on an Olympia High School Bears football team that won their league in all three of his varsity years.
Early on as a child, Robert showed talent in art. He exhibited his drawings and paintings at several Olympia Arts Walk community events, enjoying visiting with folks about his artwork. He also loved music and played trumpet in his high school jazz and concert bands.
Robert was a goal-oriented high achiever. As a Boy Scout, he achieved the highest rank of Eagle Scout. He was an excellent student in high school, graduating with honors and gaining acceptance at his dream school, the University of Southern California. There, he distinguished himself at the Roski School of Art and Design, was an active member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity, and studied in Florence, Italy for a semester, where he encountered and was inspired by some of the greatest art ever created. Robert graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts and a Minor in Communication Design in 2012. He was awarded the Discovery Scholar distinction in recognition of USC undergraduates who have excelled academically while making a meaningful contribution to their field of study through exceptional new scholarship or artistic work.
Robert was recruited out of college to work as a designer and assistant art director for Playboy Magazine in Los Angeles. While there for three years, he was responsible for award-winning design work and enjoyed being on a team of highly creative artists, designers, writers, photographers, and other talented people.
He then was hired by Outside Magazine of Santa Fe, New Mexico, as art director, where he worked for a year before striking out on his own as a freelance artist and designer in Santa Fe, founding Harkness Arts. Robert enjoyed the rich and diverse landscape and cultural heritage of New Mexico, and the laid back and unique artsy vibe of Santa Fe. He loved visiting ancient ruins and villages of the native peoples around the state, spectacular landscapes, and pursuing outdoor adventures, including hiking, rock climbing and skiing. He continued to travel often across the U.S. and internationally.
In 2016, Robert began to study Classical Realism, specifically portrait and still life painting and drawing in Santa Fe. Spending years immersed in this high art form, Robert developed a mastery of oil painting techniques and a higher plain of understanding of light, form, and color. He produced many outstanding portrait paintings and drawings and enjoyed this community. He was also finally developing art of a level of quality that he believed could be shared. He spent the coming years developing a portfolio of fine art pieces that he intended to exhibit and sell when the collection was large enough. From 2020 to 2022, he was invited to exhibit his work at Hunt Modern Design Gallery and Iconik Coffee Roasters in Santa Fe.
Between 2015 and 2023, Robert produced a tremendous amount and variety of work. He worked continuously between the art forms of painting, drawing, print-making, large exterior building wall murals, stencil street art and digital art and graphic design, producing a large body of distinctive work. Many of his pieces were never shared publicly. Robert’s dedication to his craft was relentless.
In his mid-twenties, Robert began to experience struggles with mental health. The resulting loneliness and depression became more taxing as the years passed. Despite this ongoing and increasing challenge, he remained very creative and productive in art and design. As have other artists, Robert struggled to get his work exhibited and sold, but insisted on staying with it as his life’s work. For Robert, being a successful artist was introducing inspiration and beauty into the world. His pursuit of art was all-consuming, even as it involved great difficulty and suffering in his daily life.
His mural work in Santa Fe, Pojoaque, and Albuquerque is vibrant and colorful, with themes relevant to the unique beauty and culture of New Mexico, which he loved. Robert’s last major project was a set of large exterior wall murals depicting iconic New Mexico places and an interior mural of the Taos Pueblo in a lobby at the Nova Point Apartments in Albuquerque. These stunning works stand in stark contrast to their hard urban setting in the more needy southern Uptown neighborhood of Albuquerque.
Robert was dearly loved and admired. We are grateful to have had him in our lives. He will be greatly missed, and his memory will be cherished by his family and friends. Robert is survived by his parents, Alice and Dwayne of Olympia; brothers, Luke A. Harkness (wife, Angela) of Portland, Oregon, and Justin F. Harkness (wife, Layla) of Austin, Texas; and nieces, Hendrix, Lena and Llewyn, and nephews, Henry and Vance, whom he adored.
A memorial mass will be held for Robert on April 14, 2023, 12:00 p.m. at St. Michael Parish, 1208 11th Ave. SE, Olympia, WA 98501.
Donations may be made in Robert’s memory to the following organizations by clicking on the name:
- Catholic Charities Serving Central New Mexico
- The Center for Action and Contemplation of Albuquerque
- University of Southern California Roski School of Art and Design
- Wounded Warrior Project
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