I am Brooklyn-based, mixed media artist who has spent the last dozen years making indoor and outdoor works related to the natural world. Rooted simultaneously in science while evoking the fantastical, my long-term study of plants and animals expands my imagination in generating ideas for my work. The appeal to me of science is not in using hard facts to explain the world, but rather, utilizing science as a medium to pry open and reinterpret life. My ideas take form in installations, murals, sculptural reliefs, oil paintings and drawings.
I was born in Newbury, Vermont and grew up in several New England towns. I earned a MFA from Hunter College, City University of New York and a BFA from Parsons The New School for Design. I have created site-specific works at the Brooklyn Historical Society (Brooklyn, NY); Front Room Gallery (Brooklyn, NY); Mulry Fine Art (West Palm Beach, FL); FIGMENT Sculpture Garden (Governors Island, NY); Gowanus Canal mural (Brooklyn, NY); Empire Fulton Ferry State Park (Brooklyn, NY); Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center, Smithsonian Affiliate (Solomons, MD); and exhibited at many galleries on the east coast. I have been a member since 2006 of an all-female art collective, tART. My studio is in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and I am on faculty at Adelphi University.
Recent installations include La Jardinière, a large wall-based abstracted vertical garden; where authentic-nature and simulated-nature elements coincide through multilayered planes of wall painting, representations of tree bark from industrialized wood, ceramic pressed bark, direct slip casts, floral representations in ceramic, and collected natural elements. The incorporation and fusion of these components is inspired by the urban experience of mediated nature settings, including elaborately planned parks and gardens, and through images of exotic places seen through the media.
This spring, I completed a New York City Department of Transportation commissioned mural entitled Roots/Routes, stretching 2000 feet along Harlem River Drive in northern Manhattan. The imagery references the role of roads and sidewalks in the city as the ‘root system’ or ‘veins’ for urban life, spreading across the entire city limits and depicts the way plants can grow out of sidewalk cracks, hinting that nature is always present and able to sneak back into a concrete jungle.
I created a large body of work inspired by bats, including the Orchid-Bat series, which sites the evolutionary ability of organisms to adapt to their environment. Rooted simultaneously in science while evoking the fantastical, these works depict the fusion of bats and orchids. The stimulus for the Orchid-Bat series originated from bats’ physical abilities to resemble the plants around them as a camouflage technique and from the way orchids can become more visually similar to the animals that eat their nectar in order to seduce them into pollinating.
My work is influenced by ecological practices and the complex relationship humans have to the environment. I aim to create work that has an effect upon current society and also withstands the test of time as the context evolves.
top photo of Julia Whitney Barnes by Kristen Luce/The New York Times; bottom photo by Edwin Anglero