Yesterday my show titled AFFECTION opened at Covenant College in Georgia. Thank you to Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt for this opportunity. While I was not able to be there in person, I did get to introduce my work via the video included below. As I was stressed about the preparation a dear friend said to me, "Julia, no one has ever seen this before." And that simple concept gives so much freedom. I am only competing with what's in my head. Every one else will be experiencing something new and hopefully fascinating. The show is up until March 6. The written statement is below for those interested.
THE HORIZONTAL LINE
by Edward Hirsch
(Homage to Agnes Martin)
It was like a white sail in the early morning
It was like a tremulous wind calming itself
After a night on the thunderous sea
The exhausted lightning lay down on its side
And slept on a bed of cumulous sheets
She came out of the mountains
And surrendered to the expansiveness of a plain
She underlined a text in Isaiah:
Make level in the desert
A highway for our God
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill shall be made low
The mountain grew tired of striving upward
And longed to flatten its ragged peaks
The nostalgia of a cathedral for the open plain
The nostalgia of a soprano for plainsong
I know a woman who slept on a cot
And sailed over the abyss on a wooden plank
She looked out as far as the eye can see
But the eye is a circle—poor pupil--
And the universe curved
It was like a pause on the Bridge of Sighs
An instant before the storm
Or the moment afterward
My friend listened to Gregorian chants
On the car radio as he raced down
A two-lane highway in southern France
I remember riding a bicycle very fast
On a country road where the yellow line
Quivered ever so slightly in the sun
The faint tremor in my father’s hand
When he signed his name after the stroke
The beauty of an imperfection
An almost empty canvas turned on its side
A zip that forever changed its mind
From its first pointed stroke
To its last brush with meaning
The glow of the line was spiritual
How the childlike pencil went for a walk
And came home skipping
It was like lying down at dusk to rest
On the cool pavement under the car
After a blistering day in the desert
The beaded evanescence of the summer heat
The horizon was a glimmering blue band
A luminous streamer in the distance
I recited, Brightness falls from the air
And the line suddenly whisked me away
No chapel is more breathtaking
Than the one that has been retrieved
On the horizon of memory
She remembered the stillness of a pool
Before the swimmers entered the water
And the colorful ropes dividing the lanes
Each swimmer was a scar in the blue mist
Whistle me up from the dark on a bright branch
It's not the low murmur of your voice
Almost breaking over the phone
But the thin wire of grief
The hum of joy that connects us
Sacred dream of geometry,
Ruler and protractor, temper my anguish,
Untrouble my mind
Heartbeat, steady my hand
Each year she crossed a line
Through the front page of a fresh diary
And vowed to live above the line
She would not line up with others
She would align herself with the simple truth
She erased every line in her notebook but one
Farewell to the aspirations of the vertical
The ecstasies of the diagonal
The suffering cross
Someone left a prayer book open in the rain
And the printed lines blurred
Ink smudged our fingers when we prayed
Let every line be its own revelation
The line in the painting was surrounded by light
The light in the painting held its breath
On the threshold of a discovery
If only she could picture
The boundlessness of God drawing
An invisible thread through the starry spaces
If only she could paint
The horizon without limits
A horizontal line is a pilgrimage
A segment of devotion wrested from time
An infinitely gentle mark on a blank page
The stripe remains after everything else is gone
It is a wisp of praise with a human hand
It is singing on a bare canvas
I first read “let every line be it’s own revelation” over twenty years ago and it has guided my practice ever since. As someone with a developed and ongoing commitment to repetitive mark making alongside an understanding that for me to paint is to pray, every mark, every interaction between materials is an opportunity. an invitation into relationship, with material, with viewer, with the Divine. Every line every drip becomes it’s own revelation. The work is displayed in such close proximity, because it seeks dialogue. In much the same way that salons of artwork used to be hung for education and discourse so too these pieces ask you the viewer to join the conversation.
Moving clockwise thru the space, beginning with the blue wall. The first 10 pieces are a reflection on the theme of affection. They are constructed thru the drawing of affection forward and backward across the surface, Salt is then showered on the surface and the offerings are left to dry. Each piece is created in the same way, and each outcome is different. They are an amplified chorus proclaiming love and interest to the viewer. The affection pieces acknowledge the nuance of nature and nurture, inviting and welcoming all in glorious diversity. By having them on adjacent walls it is my hope that the viewer begins to be encircled by affection, preparing them for the difficult conversations ahead and knowing that all of the questioning is done from a place of bolstered support.
The next series is titled “In the Depths” These paintings appear ossified and aquatic. One of the most profound books I read in the past year was “The Deep” by Rivers Solomon. “The Deep” is a haunting remembrance of collective trauma, the Mid-Atlantic slave trade, and how healing happens in community, especially thru mutual aid. They nod to my experience as a swimmer, but also to the human experience of navigating life’s currents. They invite the viewer to go deep. My family phrase is a call and response where someone says “Is the water deep?” And the rest chorus “Jump in!” Meaning explore the new, do a deep dive on history, or something else that interests you. Be earnest and unapologetic about your interest. All of these references are not comparable, but layered. They were what I reflected on while painting and it is my hope that they show up and find resonance with the viewer prompting reflection on your own understanding of self and community. These paintings are created thru splashes and drips, their watery origins being reflected in the final images.
This next collection of works, is just that: a collection. Here various working methods are displayed alongside each other prompting different interactions. There is a distinct ombre effect in the day when the winter sky is visible thru the clerestory windows and a striped effect when the night sky mirrors the darker paintings of the lower row. This prompts a different reflection on place and time, perception and transience. Each painting of this collection offers something different and it is up to you to interpret without external guides, through your own intuition.
Then we come to the Droplets wall.
The foundation of this series began a few years ago when I was on a Zoom call with a precocious three-year-old. We were painting together and she was asking lots of questions, as is her right as a three-year old, which meant that my focused attention needed to be directed at her and not necessarily at the painting. What could happen was a fingerprint at a time. A simple gesture, that evolved into patterned prayers, meditations on connection. I painted on dry paper in sketchbooks and then dry paper in large rolls, 30ft long rolls. A shift happened when I wet the paper and then fingerprinted onto it dancing with the blooming touchpoints, allowing for real-time adjustments of the image. After gaining proficiency with this working method I returned to my familiar practice of adding salt to wet imagery. The hydrophilic and hydrophobic reactions highlight the directionality that the water application introduced and construct highly textured images.
As for the content of these images, this Droplets series is a reflection on two concurrent epidemics in America. First, SARS-CoV-2; as someone with a complicated immune response to illness, my life has been drastically altered by the presence of these viral droplets and is the reason why I am not there with you in person today. The second endemic that the Droplets series focuses on is gun violence and subsequent blood splatter. Something I am all too aware of as a university professor. As I realized the content of these paintings I removed my fingerprints from the paper and created through splatter and drips; making no direct contact. This is reminiscent of the distance that many that many take when talking about these challenging issues. The choice to display the paintings as a wallpaper points to the enormity of these issues, their immensity blocking all other sight and action.
Both the “Droplets” and “In the Depths” are constructed in the same way. Thru drips and splatters, but the “Droplets” have salt added and “In the Depths” foregoes that step. While the process of making these paintings appears effortless, they are splatter paintings after all, they are not. They are carefully choreographed initiatives between material and intent. The monochromatic color scheme constructs a meditative space where the viewer has room to explore free from chromatic distraction. Every element is collaborated with allowing for the coalescing of form and meaning.
All of the paintings remain unframed in the traditional sense. For a long time I didn’t understand my reluctance to framing. I had the means and ability, but the work resisted it. It wasn’t until I read a street performers and musician with a habit of crowd-surfing reccount about the exquisite trust and vulnerability that develops between a performer and their audience that I understood. The pieces are an experience in trust. The sheets of paper remain unprotected. They rely on the viewer to treat them with, at minimum, benign neglect, and at best, utmost care and consideration. Thus adding to the interpretative elements while implicating the viewer in the process. Thank you for your careful consideration, I offer these works to you with much affection.
I read 628 books last year. Here I share 24 (non-fiction and fiction) that stuck with me. One's that I returned to and recommended with others. They might not have made it into my most recent 100 reflections (most did), but there is a staying power in the captivating ideas presented in each of these books. I appreciate books that rely on interesting structures and extended metaphors, that prompt expansive thought, and that give insight into the human condition. Thankful to the authors for being my faithful conversation partners this past year. Here's to more reading in the new year!
P.S. If you are nerdy about stats reading that many books only took 36 days, so not even 10% of the year. All that to say you too can read a lot of books.
Draw Your Weapons by Sarah Sentilles
A theological reckoning about the implications of war from the perspective of images.
My Art Books Collection by Shana Gozansky
This delightful children's series talks about emotions and experiences in age appropriate ways while introducing the artistic canon.
The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt
An plot-twisting novella filled with fine detail.
How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch
A meditative and incisive reflection on how to (not) show up in our contemporary time.
How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen by David Brooks
Written with clarity and palatability a foundational presentation on reflective listening.
USER FRIENDLY: How the hidden rules of design are changing the way we live, work, and play by Cliff Kuang with Robert Fabricant
A case-study based presentation of the history of "user-friendly" design complete with pitfalls and successes.
"Are you still working on your podcast?" "Yes, yes I still am." There were many silent seasons between what this team released in 2020 and what we offer to you now. For a variety of reasons ideas percolated and were poured out in our production group, and remained there. It is with excitement and relief that we offer this Advent reflection titled "Liturgies for Uncertainty."
I am including my homily and the two poetic offerings from the episode here:
Within the Christian tradition the first Sunday of Advent lights the candle of Prophecy. This marker of the new year inaugurates a recollection (referring to Isaiah) and a foretelling (the coming of the Redeemers birth) . In this moment caught between time orientations, there is a cradle of possibility. Perhaps your life seems to exist in the moments before the candle is lit when all is dark. It seems impossible to connect with the pronouncement of hope.
Within the liturgical calendar, the long stretch of Ordinary time has passed and a new season has begun. This is a significant shift. It is the celebration of a new year! Happy New Year! Even if the beginning of Advent isn’t when you traditionally celebrate the new year, you have experience with the feeling and anticipation of something new. A page turning. And the theme of this is hope. Hope that this new year will bring something delightful. Anticipation that what has been hoped for might transpire. Hope that the things you struggled with in the proceeding year have ended. It feels like something new. And yet, so often it isn’t. We remain in the same situations. Nothing substantive has changed. The same problem that confronted us yesterday stymies us today. In this way I think of hope as pernicious. It keeps holding the proverbial carrot just out of reach. One interpretation of the Stockade paradox about surviving seemingly unsurvivable situations is to “Confront the brutal reality. Never lose hope.” What brutal reality do you need to confront in this next year? How does an honest evaluation assist with forward momentum? These are not prescriptive actions, but rather calls to observation.
How do you walk with what remains unresolved? And how do you remain in relationship with uncertainty? These are the first questions that came to mind when asked to reflect on the nature of hope in light of long-suffering and illness. Our culture values outcome and production, measurable quantifiable increments that we can label as achievements. What happens when your goal is hope, because somewhere along the way you lost that sense that the horrible and difficult of your life would ever change. Perhaps it was the day you witnessed something ordinary that used to sparkle and delight, but now landed with a thud. Perhaps it was the moments or months after a diagnosis that would cause a drastic re-ordering of your life. Or perhaps it remains nebulous and you find yourself in a miasma with no directional markers. Perhaps the hope in those moments is stillness? Perhaps hope in those moments is acceptance? Hope is a continued commitment to the unresolved, hope is the prophetic.
ON THAT NIGHT
By Jan Richardson, from the Illuminated Advent Retreat.
On that night when
you are holding
your very last hope,
thinking to let it go
as too small to be saved
on that night when
you turn away at last
from the far horizon
over which you had thought
your life would come
to find you;
on that night,
this is where
will give way
to the mystery
and the blessing
that seemed so distant
come to meet you,
holding your heart
in its two
"On That Night" © Jan Richardson. From the Illuminated Advent Retreat. Used by permission. janrichardson.com
“Sometimes the thing that gets us through the day is knowing that it will end.
God, thank you for the hope of a new day and the relief that I won’t have to return to this particular one.
In rest, renew my perseverance.
In acceptance, uphold my heart.
In patience, prepare me for glory.
You abide with me
more than I can see.
Amen.” -K.J. Ramsey
This poem was originally posted here and more about KJ can be found on her website. Used with permission.