Review Me: Julie Crowder connection to earth
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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Julie Crowder connection to earth

Julie, Thank you for accepting our invitation and talking about your art career and artworks through this interview so warmly. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

I grew up moving around a lot as a kid, and I think that has made me a person who studies lots of cultures and the way they approach the arts. When I went to school, I studied art at both Mary Washington College and then after moving to Richmond, I studied at Virginia Commonwealth University. Mary Washington was a very supportive environment that helped me to grow artistically in a small group of artists. VCU was where I learned to defend my work. That was the big focus when I was there. We had to be able to talk about all the decisions we made and that we make, and be able to take really harsh criticism, so I learned a lot from both places.

Artists may naturally encounter obstacles through their artistic path and even become disappointed, and sometimes this causes them to have doubts or hesitance. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

I have definitely overcome a lot of artistic blocks in my life. There have been whole years where I was crippled by the idea of saying contributing to oppression through my art somehow, or a block where I thought felt like none of my work made sense together. At this point in my life, I call it bobbing and weaving artistic blocks. If a block comes up to me and I can’t get rid of it, I don’t quit painting, I make something completely different. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic helped me a lot. She says that all artistic blocks are just fear, and you can’t get rid of fear, but you also can’t let it drive.

What an admirable attitude! You have never allowed your blocks to keep you away from creating art or even give you up. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

In my studio, it is very easy for me to get caught up in thoughts and psych myself out of doing the project that I had in mind, so what I do when I enter my studio is: I light some incense, I put on an audiobook and I stop thinking, and paint. I know a lot of artists love music, and I love music, too, but if I am singing along I don’t usually get as lost in making the work. I like to start really early in the morning, and I like the space to be clean already. I set up my palette and I start. I stand while I paint so I can move away from the canvas and get closer really easily, unless I am working on the tiny details.

You start to work at daybreak because, at that time, nature pleases the senses and mind aesthetically. Now, take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork? Where does an artwork begin for you?

I begin all of my work in my sketchbook and my journal. I do something I like to call “Rorschach sketching”. I spend several days painting with watercolor swaths into my sketchbook, and then squashing the book closed so that the pages become somewhat symmetrical and also less planned. After I alter the whole sketchbook this way and it’s dry, I go through with a pencil and let my subconscious pull images from the colors and add that pencil drawing on top of the work. After that, I go back in with a colored pencil usually and color the image in. Some of those images stay just in my sketchbook, but when I find I have a big group of similarly themed images in my sketchbook, or when something comes up in my journal a lot , that’s when I start imagining them on the canvas. I get models to pose for images, take digital photos from the images, and then, grid and paint canvases with those images, adding and altering color and adding images from nature and my imagination. I also incorporate text when I think it’s helpful.

Great job! The foremost theme of your paintings is nature, appreciation of nature, and respect for the earth. So, is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

I think the look of my work connects it together, but I am kind of distractible and I don’t spend longer than a year or two on one topic. My use of color and my focus on nature and figure are definitely a theme that goes through all of my work, as well as references to art history, but 15 years ago I was fixated on a thick calligraphic outline, and that has pretty much vanished. This Farmers’ Market series is unique in my body of work.

Some artists prefer to engage viewers in understanding and interpreting their work, while for others, it is essential to help the audience get the main message. Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

I have gotten blocks, before based on a fear that my intention for the work was meaningless and that somehow the exact opposite meaning would be gleaned by the larger population, like in Barbara Kruger’s “shop till you drop”. That piece, I think, was meant to be a commentary on the gluttony of consumer culture, but the average American took it as advertising to shop more. I love Barbara Kruger by the way, I just hate that this can happen to artists, but ultimately once we create the work, it really is out of our hands and we just have to do our best to be clear and clever and deep. I try not to spend a lot of time overthinking things these days. What purpose does it serve for me to sit around painting nothing because I am afraid one person will misconstrue my intent? My intent is almost always something like: the earth is a beautiful place, we need to return to a place as a culture where we care for her and love her, and see her as magic and our mother. I celebrate creativity and beauty and color. I love to incorporate goddess poses from antiquity into my work.

In Farmers Market Series, with an intelligent combination, you present nature and natural life. With the admiration and joy in each character's face and figure, viewers will be inspired by the beauties of the earth in the way they want it to appear. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

I love art history, and I love to take little hints at art history and incorporate them into my pieces. The Farmers’ Market series, for example, the pose of each of the models is from an ancient sculpture of the corn goddess that I saw at the museum in Mexico City. I also often use poses from traditional catholic prayer cards for poses for my models. I like the way that implies a magic to whatever you are looking at. I go to museums all the time and I read constantly. I try to serve the muses as best as I can…. I usher for our local theaters, I think that service and going outside of your everyday box brings you new images and ideas. You never know where your next inspiration is going to come from.

That’s true. Inspiration occurs spontaneously, without intention. What about your favorite subjects? How do you select your artworks subjects? Where they come from?

For the farmers market series, I wanted to really focus on the idea that more than one person being eating the food presented in the image, and that whatever magical being gives us this food, means it’s to be shared. All of the work refers to that. So I started with my model and a split frame between the big open sky and field, and then contrasted that with language of the city: cement, graffiti, wheat-pasted signs, and then over the top of the central figure and that landscape I added all of the creatures that share a need for that food is shown. The graffiti uses some playful language to also reflect that theme.

An artwork moves some to tears, some to anger, and sometimes it stirs passion. And so, it will be remembered. Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?

I am really proud of this Farmers’ Market series, and this last show I did: Mother Earth's Road Trip down Route 1: Dreaming the Divine Feminine into the map of Virginia, but I like the idea that I have no idea what kind of art I will be making 20 years from now, and I will only get better as I practice and try and new things. I hope I will be remembered for my body of work and how it was fluid and grew with me as I grew.

This series of yours will show how the love of nature can be acclaimed via your sensitive drawings and unique painting. And, Julie, our readers are big fans of your artworks. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

Coming out of the pandemic I want to do some really lush and whimsical things and just be over the top with my ideas, so the work I am currently in the process of doing is called the “RVA Fae” and is all kinds of really wild mythological creatures set against the landscape of the James River and Richmond, Virginia. I am doing a lot of mermaids, a lot of fairies, some trolls, and there will continue to be some overlaid text about protecting the land and our river. When the show opens I want the show to be rich and lush, with belly dancers and poetry readings, all of the muses will be represented.

Let’s talk about your influences. What are your art influences? Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?

Some of my favorite artists to look at and enjoy are: John Singer Sargent, Frida Kahlo, the Pre-Raphaelites, Rosa Bonheur, Barbara Kruger, Sonya Clark, and Andy Goldsworthy, and while I am sure you can see some of that reflected in my work, it’s the really old stuff that most influences my ideas. The Venus of Willendorf, the Minoan Snake Goddess sculptures, those old Sheila Na Gig relief sculptures you see in Ireland, the cave paintings at Lascaux, and the Greek bull-jumping images. I think those things pop into my mind more than any other contemporary artists do, but of course, I admire them, and I love to look at the way they choose to interact with the world, or shy away from it. I feel both of those impulses.

And, if you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

I would love to have dinner with Caravaggio, and Artemisia Gentileschi at the same time. We would eat some really amazing Italian food and then spend the rest of the evening painting together and learning from one another. I think I know some really lovely models that they would appreciate, I would pull in some theatrical lighting that would blow their minds, and then I could learn so much from the way they took it from there. I love the chiaroscuro paintings from antiquity. I am certainly not on their level, but I love to learn and I love to look at it and how much color and drama they were able to achieve. Florence was one of my favorite places ever to visit.

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