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On Julia Katz at Addington Gallery: Interview with the Artist

'Boardwalk', by Julia Katz, oil on panel, 48" x 60"

The latest exhibition at Addington Gallery in Chicago (running until June 1
st, 2010) consists of encaustic paintings by California-based artist Howard Hersh, and extremely strong figurative paintings by Chicago-based artist Julia Katz. After I met Julia Katz at the preview, she agreed to be interviewed about her paintings, which depict people in public spaces, either running or clustered together in crowds.

Philip: You work in series, it seems. Is there a common theme to the subject matter of your work?

Julia: I like to work in series because I like to develop several pieces at once.  Rotating from one to another while they are in process helps me to figure out what I am looking for with each painting. I’ve been working with a general theme of the human figure in motion for the past several years, after spending many years painting strictly from models posing in the studio.  The idea of painting motion is continuing to evolve for me.  I started with a focus on dancing figures, trying to indicate movement with the image of dancers and with energetic brushstrokes and marks of color.  That led to the next series of paintings in which I began thinking about the movement of the environment surrounding figures running on a beach and playing in water.  Wind, water and light were the subjects of the abstract, gestural painting that served as the background.  My latest paintings are also people in motion, but the motion has become more subtle in some of these.  People are milling about in crowds.  Light is playing a more prominent role, bouncing and reflecting, creating dramatic shadowing. I am also thinking about other things that fill the air in these, like music and conversation, that are not visible but which affect the scene.

Philip: Your work is very gestural, with heavy use of impasto. Could you describe your working process when making a picture, including the source material?

Julia: I work from my own photographs.  I have two interests when I am painting that I try to make work together.  On one hand, I am very interested in discovering and rendering the uniqueness of each person that I paint.  I want to see and then paint exactly who I perceive this person to be from all the visual clues I can discern.  I want to catch their posture and attitude and features, even if I render them broadly.  My other interest is in painting intuitive abstractions that convey energy and act as an environment for the figures in the paintings.  I indulge myself in gestural brushstrokes, palette-knifed splotches, whatever I can think of, responding and reworking, adding layer upon layer, and in the process I build a lot of texture.  I like to explore the nuances of color.  I try to make an abstraction, derived from visual and conceptual cues, that turns out to be a carefully balanced arrangement of colors, marks and shapes, according to my own intuition.  I want the viewer to feel my energy in the work and I intend for the energetic way that I paint to reflect the subject matter. 

'Marathon', Julia Katz, oil on panel, 30" x 50"

Philip: Do you alter the composition much during the course of painting a picture?

Julia: Everything about the painting is subject to change.  I always have a pretty strong idea about the placement of the figures from the start of each piece, but I never know where the abstraction will lead me. Without a sense of discovery during the process, it would not be worth doing at all.  I love to be brave enough to make drastic changes in a painting when I am deep into it—should I or shouldn’t I paint over something that I spent days on?  If the question pops up, I tend to say ‘yes’. 

Philip: Do you work in any other media? If so, what are they? If not, why does your chosen medium compel you so much?

Julia: I rarely work in anything but oil paint anymore.  Sometimes I use fluid acrylics when I want to do something different.  I find oil paint to be endlessly complex and rich and satisfying. It is important for me to know my colors so intimately that I know exactly what I want to reach for without having to think about it too much. 

Philip: How do/did you go about finding exhibition venues for your work?

Julia: I met Dan Addington in 2006 at a Chicago Artists Coalition portfolio review.  He started showing my work soon after that.  Dan has been really supportive of my work and I appreciate that he gives me shows at Addington Gallery.  I have had my work in the publication, Studio Visit Magazine, and from that I have received calls from a couple of galleries in other cities.  I will be having a solo show in April 2011 at Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina, due to my work appearing in that publication. 

Philip: What are you working on now?

Julia: I have plans to start some panoramic shaped paintings, very horizontal.  I’m interested in pushing the movement idea in the direction of making the viewer move across the picture plane in time and space.

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