Friday, January 18, 2013

A Studio Visit with Julia Whitney Barnes by Susan Ross

DECEMBER 2, 2012

Entering Julia Whitney Barnes' studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I encountered a world of interconnections, a feast for the eyes. Two of the walls are covered with rich source material, including studies, photos and reproductions of images of animals, plants, architecture, a favorite painting: Pontormo’s Visitation and a view from her studio window in Italy.  Surrounding herself with this imagery, Julia explores relationships between art, science and mythology, and natural and human-made worlds. Integrating her ideas, she flexibly moves among oil painting, printmaking, ceramics, mural painting, mosaic work and installation, creating studio and public works. Her work is influenced by ecological practices and the complex relationship humans have had with the environment throughout time.
For Collectively Assembled, I chose a painting in progress (oil paint, ink and watercolor on linen stretched over wood.) This piece explores private vs. public and is a good fit for the unique A@R space with its reconverted showers, green areas, courtyard and public programs. Initially Julia associated the blue atmosphere with the sky, but after Hurricane Sandy this aquatic color took on new meaning. The prison-like tower is a remnant from an abandoned amusement park. She incorporates the labyrinthine floor pattern of San Vitale in Ravenna, leading our eye back to the center of the painting. Its perfect triangles have been made irregular with the passing of time. We also see nature at work on the contemporary fence in the foreground. Julia observes, “Nature permeates human-made structures. Humans build barriers, yet long for reunification with nature, a constant cycle occurring throughout centuries.” The adaptable trees, growing through the fence, have been cut down to truncated branches. The trees weave in and out of the fence, itself a woven form. Repeated triangle and diamond patterns bring the eye around the entire painting.

A diptych, Star Island (hand-colored etching with shellac-based ink and watercolor,) will also be included in the show. Star Island is a real island off the coast of NH, where Julia spent time as a child. In this diptych, she explores how the isolated feeling of the island is conducive to fantasy. The atmospheric pink coloring breathes throughout both images like the sky at dawn or dusk. The star print fuses patterns from various cultures, including Celtic and Islamic. Julia is interested in how patterns affirm universality among cultures and are distilled from nature. She creates patterns within patterns and the star arrows are multidirectional and continuous in movement. In the landscape print, Julia explores her love for the work of Patrick Blanc, trained botanist, artist and creator of vertical gardens. She loves the ecological benefits of vertical gardens, planted on building walls, and how these beautiful creations grow and change over time. In this print, she also explores her fascination with a unique geological structure, a karst formation in Phang Nga Bay in Thailand. This rock formation has been transformed by the rise of fall of the sea level. Time and natural processes have turned it into a vertical garden structure. A ghost print of a spiral staircase weaves around this image, creating an energy field.
It was wonderful to see Julia and her work, and to learn about her inspirations. I look forward to future studio visits!
Julia Whitney Barnes has been a member of the tART Collective since 2006. She is on the faculty at Adelphi University. To learn more about her work, visit