R U I N Statement
Architecture is more than just a place of residence, but a vessel no different than that of the human body which questions the roles of identity, psychology and voyeurism. Influenced by the human condition, I find that architecture is synonymous with the human figure. Throughout history, structured dwellings have been created many times using proportional measurements in relationship to the human form. Architecture is what houses the human body and protects it from the elements and yet, we can witness from anywhere in the world the state of protective structures in continual alteration. Somehow in their creation to protect, their history unfolds to a testament of change, alteration, and eventually decay.
Architecture is a man-made endeavor that bridges the differences between cultural identities. It is an object that is physically present and demands a certain involvement from each individual that encounters the structure. Through travel and mass media, ancient architecture is readily able to be experienced. My work brings into focus the relationship between architecture of western cultures in connection to architecture from the past one hundred years in America, specifically in the South. I am interested in exploring syncretism. Among these varying times, places and cultures, there is a connection. The amalgamation of these varying structures brings together a collective understanding of identity. These ancient structures, still standing for centuries, remain in our universal consciousness as spaces that are continually occupied. The connection of past persons dwelling and experiencing these structures is undeniable. These sacred, ancient spaces, structures, and facades are in constant threat of decaying and vanishing. The slow process of time, unavoidable, penetrates into these ruins. The pull between the powers of a protective structure seems to gain a collective and provocative importance no matter the time, place or culture. The decadence of vast global empires juxtaposed next to small rural America is a gateway to explore the impact that cultures have upon one another.
R E V I E W S
JULIANNE FRENCH, ARTVOICES Magazine: 8th Anniversary Winter Issue #43
by Robin Rice
"Iconic architecture is the ostensible subject of Julianne French’s Ruins series. The monochrome transfers on paper are embedded in a seductive patina of charcoal and conté crayon markings and black and white washes. Unquestionably satisfying to the eye, these Ruins also embody challenging, rigorous subtexts. What French describes as “explosions of images and drippings of ink” connect language, architecture and humanity — the stuff of civilization — from ancient times to the present. Slated to be in a two-person show at the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach (Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida) in 2017, French began the project three years ago. In a playful mood, she placed transfers of a reconstruction of the Colosseum on a dictionary page. “That was a happenstance moment,” she allows. The page for Mimesis contains an entry for the Modernist architect Le Corbusier, but this was not calculated. The key idea is the inclusion of writing itself, an artifact and emblem of civilization. “The written word references humanity,” she wisely observes. Though rotated sideways bracelet-like a pair of embellished transfers of a reconstruction of the Colosseum in Mimesis is nevertheless instantly recognizable. Language might be bigger than the individual, like the Colosseum in its grandeur and iconic status, but language is wielded by and for the individual. Language, formal language, should convey ideas precisely. And what is more precise than a dictionary that tells us what words mean? However, the inadequacy, the constantly shifting implicit and explicit meanings of words might be problematic. As in Joseph Kosuth’s didactic One and Three Chairs (1965) the identification of a simple object — perhaps the most basic task of language — is not simple. Using multiple images and treating language as a background French obliquely illustrates these paradoxes. It’s estimated that over a million people died in the Colosseum, ancient Rome’s largest building. It was a carefully thought out symbol of the power and principles of imperial Rome. In Eclipse multiple interlocking images of the print seem to bulge from the page like the gears of an enormous historical clock-work. We easily recognize and accept that these are identical and not identical. “Mirroring, doubling, repeating: I love to play with the compositions. I want to break that obviousness, that monotony,” French says.
To us Moderns this monument arouses contradictory feelings of admiration, nostalgia, and horror. French reclaims and reproduces this theatrical vessel designed to contain human bodies: dead, alive, and represented. Practical forms, like stairs and doorways, and decorative ones, like columns and statues, all echo the human body in one way or another. “I really look at architecture as though it was the human body,” the artist explains. “Throughout history these structures were created with human proportions in mind…. Architecture is a vessel and it has a presence like the interior essence of a person. Conceptually they are similar.” Moving forward centuries in the Western canon, French made a number of works based on the mystery and enchantment of Gothic cathedrals, in which pointed spires and arches form rhythmic patterns that consciously expressed religious cultural principles. “Some of these pieces have a haunting quality to them that ties in with the history of cultures and structures” French notes. In Mirror she vertically juxtaposes reflection like versions of three Gothic spires on a roof. A splash of light where the two images meet is like an explosion when the past meets the present. “I’m not putting personal stories in my head when I make them, but the nature of the idea of the spire is kind of iconic, universal. There is an intrinsic story.” French placed Mirror on thick embossed Braille paper, expanding the range of encrypted language references. When she was 5 years old, French with her family visited the spectacular Ramses II exhibition. It was a key moment for her. “That really has always stayed with me: the sculpture of Ramses (The Colossus of Memphis, a 27 foot tall stone statue); the massiveness of it and the allure of seeing his sarcophagus.” This experience and early contact with historical art through books left her with the conviction that “Art was almost a private dialogue with the world.” The first things she drew as a child were buildings, she recalls. “I really looked at these things as though they were the human body;” however, she did not pass up the artist’s traditional training. French received her MFA in painting from the New York Academy of Art, a school famous for its demanding emphasis on the accurate representation of the human figure. She has worked with human subjects all along and intends to return to them at some point.
Though she did not set out to address Western art or culture, French is conscious that her current project is in many ways such a summation.
She felt she needed a near contemporary subject in the series and chose Antithesis, an offset paired image of the Community First Credit Union Headquarters, a 26-story office building in Jacksonville, Florida where she lives. The slim-columned arches on the ground level are the descendants of Roman arches like those in the Colosseum. “My original intent was to make it relevant to me. I was trying to compare [the ancient arches] to the architecture of the South and … that connection to American culture.” Though a commonality to our eyes, this sort of building is archetypal for our secular, capitalistic, bureaucratic culture. Old buildings allow us to get close experientially to their makers and users, as close as we ever will, to walk in the steps of ancestral generations, to touch things they touched, and to see something perhaps weathered and damaged but proportioned and organized as their environments were. French explores the aspirations of earlier cultures and reveals limitations in our vision and in theirs. The principles and ideologies driving fabrication evolved and often, as in the case of the Colosseum, became radically attenuated. “Is it positive or negative?” she asks? “It is still part of a dialogue that we need to keep thinking about. These empires are gone. They are ruins now.” French will have a two-person show at the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL in 2016 and is currently a featured artist in the Jacksonville International Airport."
The Power of Place in North Florida
By Catherine Fitzpatrick
Entering the Main Gallery in the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach, you can do a cursory glance across the walls and think you’ve taken in and “gotten” the exhibit “Penumbra”; shadowy prints of architecture, drawings of the backwoods, photos of fairy tale images. The show holds together with a similar palette throughout, rectangular images, all smaller than life. If you move on at this point the force of nature will watch you go. It surrounds you always but does not impose itself on the surface of your life. It is ready to fill your chest and lift you through time and space if only you take more than a moment to look, to look and let the art lift you. Arising from our environment here in North Florida, this art can help you realize we are special here, we have a special part of the world, here. Julianne French, Debra Mixon Holliday, and Masha Sardari are creating images that draw us into a world behind what is empirical, a world where color is nascent and stories are universal. In prints, drawings and photos respectively, the force of nature is palpable.
“I really look at architecture as though it was the human body,” explains Julianne French. “Throughout history these structures were created with human proportions in mind…. Architecture is a vessel and it has a presence like the interior essence of a person. Conceptually they are similar.” The Colosseum of ancient Rome is a vessel of the body of the Roman people, a carefully thought out symbol of the power and principles of imperial Rome. It defined not only the empire but also each person. To be Roman was, by nature, special. The mystery and enchantment of Gothic cathedrals, with pointed spires and arches consciously expressed religious cultural principles, soaring ceilings reflecting soaring spirituality. “Some of these pieces have a haunting quality to them that ties in with the history of cultures and structures,” French notes.
In 2014 Ms. French was awarded an Art Ventures grant from the Community Foundation to create landscape portraits of Northeast Florida which allowed her to continue her Ruin Series. The image “Antithesis” draws upon the old Barnett Bank building, a 26-story office building here in Jacksonville, Florida where she lives. Ms. French remarks, “My original intent was to make it relevant to me. I was trying to compare [the ancient arches] to the architecture of the South and … that connection to American culture.” This sort of building is archetypal for our secular, capitalistic, bureaucratic culture. I love that the old Barnett Bank building is identified as a culturally expressive building. We all have times when we let our daydreams float us to insights that at first seem absurd, but there is that underlying kernel of truth that keeps floating into focus. I can imagine the insight about this building hitting the artist as she walked past it for the umpteenth time. Most days the building was barely noticed in the routine of her day, but, as she ruminated on buildings as human bodies, there it rose in front of her a contemporary body, whose underlying influence came from the whole of western history.
The Ruin series shown here has grown from her many observations of the architecture of downtown Jacksonville. Drawing upon those embellishments that make these buildings memorable, Ms. French has created her Ruin I series. In these prints you can see spires and window arches of downtown churches, pillars, cornices and interlaced arches of neogothic buildings. Her prints using these elements create a backstory to who we are today in Jacksonville. We live among the structures that once contained the vibrancy of a new place, which now offers to us the reminder of the grace of place passed to us from those in our history.
Ms. French has a singular sense of architecture as descriptor of place and people. As she travels she gathers architectural details the way many of us might create a travel journal. The images she collects abroad get blended among the elements she has gathered locally in the compositions of her Ruin II series. Here we get a more freely flowing sense of interconnectivity between the old and the new. Clearly, the old is not simply transferred here. We are not the same culture our ancestors left behind when they emigrated here. On the other hand, we cannot claim to be wholly new. Whether we recognize or not from where in the architectural pantheon of the world many parts of her images arise, we can see that along with elements collected here these images tell us a lot about who we are in Jacksonville, about what kind of grace and beauty permeates us because of the place that has been created.
When asked about the limited palette of these works Ms. French replied, “I find this simple palette helps to give a unity to the work but also offers a stoic feel to the imagery. My inclusion of blues and greens was to incorporate soothing colors to the composition.” Also of her works that represent Jacksonville, some were purchased for the public collection of the University Medical Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. “They purchased a piece that was of the very old public library, not the Retro one, but the one with the gorgeous Corinthian columns. I named it “Atheneum” in dedication to what it originally was. Many of the Jacksonville inspired works have been purchased and are now elsewhere being appreciated. Funny because I thought the more obvious ones like the Colosseum would have been first choice for many collectors, but I think this is actually more interesting that individuals not from Jacksonville like the idea of our architecture, it is something new and different, yet strangely familiar,” she commented.
In the work of Debra Mixon Holliday, our relationships to nature are explored, addressing themes related to boundaries, connections, sense of place, time, memory, and identity. Her current body of work she refers to as “Lineworks: Woods and Wildflowers." Arising from our own environment, these forays into the woodlands and swamps of our area, throb with the intensity of life and death ever present in this natural world. I feel brave having these images define the natural state of where I live. “I’m fascinated with the native flora and fauna of the Southeast, and the native birds that are part of that landscape,” comments Ms. Mixon Holliday, “so it seems very natural to include them in my images. They’re part of the natural world as a system that I’m interested in. Like all of the native creatures, I’m in awe of their survival in light of the many factors (particularly the many manmade ones) that assault their habitat. On a symbolic level, I love their ability to ignore manmade boundaries, to do things that humans can't.” Beyond what she is observing is how she observes. To quote Georgia O’Keefe, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” These “vignettes,” Ms. Dixon Holliday tells me, “I think, are my way of bearing witness to and honoring those things with attention.”
There is also a reduced color palette so like that of Julianne French and Masha Sardari, with details worked just as carefully, appearing in this case as a focused look at the combination of dead and living elements intertwined in the natural environment. A practical aspect came into play in her choice of limited color. Ms. Dixon Holliday tells us “For example, the blue/green color is based on pthalo blue, which is a staining color that works well in staining the paper.” Ultimately, though she “wanted subdued color. The colors also set a certain mood of mystery, which to me is interesting. I also probably obsess a little bit about not doing ‘expected’ colors, so I tend to try and choose colors that aren’t stereotypical.” The reduction of color in these images does not seem to flatten them but rather to act as a way of peering deeper into these plants, past the surface, almost to the biology. Her chiaroscuro use of light and dark feels like we are looking at the corner of a Renaissance piece with a magnifying glass, contributing to the sense of overall awe in the environment. Only the most intense portions of life glow like embers. This is Plein Air on steroids, beyond the observed and into the poetry.
Masha Sardari uses a similar sense of universal life force in her figural explorations of femininity. This is not a political call for equality with men, these are images about those things that made men call women witches. This is the power of womanhood unmasked. How appropriate that fairy tales become a scaffold for images of power that is inherent not just in the figure in the image, but in the feminine by nature. Is there something inherent in the color palette employed here yet again in expressing natural forces behind our daily lives? In telling me about her use of color Ms. Sardari says “I have always been drawn to rich yellows and deep reds in imagery. Much of my work draws on the palette's of Romanticist and Baroque masters as I am astonished by the power of their images both conceptually and visually. I also often view my photography as a window into my mind. A realization of a dream or memory. In my mind's eye, everything is slightly darkened but as I focus on an image, the colors emerge through powerful reds and yellows revealed by a beam of light. I have experimented with cooler tones, but they rarely manage to possess as much power.” Indeed, the figures are in clear focus, but the sensitive use of color and chiaroscuro creates the life force of the composition. For example, “the fairer one” with the figure clutching apples to her breasts, flecks of red scattered all round her feet, seems to vibrate with the tension of power barely in check. An effort can be made to hold it in, but it emerges anyway, beyond the control of any individual woman. Creative writers could have a field day using these images as inspiration.
Again, in this body of work, there is a focus on a single figure, maybe two. While in Julianne French’s work we look closely at architectural elements, and with Debra Mixon Holliday we look closely at native flora and fauna, here it is one or two figures who rise into focus. They are as enduring as the air, the sun, the sky. They can be just like the wind with gathered folds and billowing sheets, pale in color like that of a cloudy sky blowing through. They might have recognizable symbols that tell the universal folk stories, but they are much more. Ms. Sardari, like the two artists with whom her work is showing, has come to recognize that we have a special place here. “NE Florida is full of beautifully hidden places. We often think that it is only beaches and palm trees, but there is so much more hidden in the forests along the highways.” What she has perceived in the forests along our highways, overlooked by passengers (me) in racing cars, is recognized in these photographs as the places where the primordial and the present are one. I want to go there . . . with caution.
“Penumbra” opens Friday, October 6, 2017 6:00pm (5:30pm for Renaissance Members) Gallery Hours are Monday - Friday, 9:00am - 5:00pm Saturday, 10:00am - 4:00pm After Hour Appointments Available Gallery visit with Docent available Tuesdays and Wednesday’s at 11:00 am. and Saturdays at 12:15 p.m. (Free will donation)