Cultivating Greater Gentleness: The Art of Julianna Bright
- “The Chorus and Creating”
ONE OF THE GREATEST JOYS in discovering a new artist is stepping out of your world and into another. We loved crossing that threshold into the land of Portland, Oregon-based artist Julianna Bright. In her folkloric, fairy-tale realm, images of sisterhood and kinship abound—though the ethereal women she paints are as likely to be paired up with a giant bird or a princely frog as with another human. “The pictures I make have became for me a way to circle back to that wonder I felt as a child,” says Julianna, “that time before I was even able to read when I could fashion a whole universe in my mind around an illustration.”
- Baby Julianna with her mom and brother
Self-taught as both an artist and musician, Julianna comes by her talent honestly; her mother, whom Julianna “thinks of as a sister these days,” is also an artist, and lived for a time with with Julianna, her partner and musical collaborator, Seth Lorinczi, and their young daughter, Evelyn George (along with assorted chickens and a cat). Julianna and Seth also share their home with artist Melody Owen, whose Disappearing Book art project led to our discovery of Julianna.
Born in Los Angeles, and raised primarily in Orange County, California, Julianna felt isolated as a teenager. As she says, “Orange County was a hostile place for me to be a young adult. In retrospect, there was very little room for peculiarity in that place, very little room for a girl to foster interests that weren’t focused on her appearance, the clothes she wore, whether or not boys would like her.”
But a post-high school move to L.A. started to change things, and a special relationship opened up her world. “One of my best friends in LA was my aunt,” she recalls. “There’d been no language growing up to talk about the fact that she was a lesbian…it was something I never acknowledged. I was such a true naïf and gays were so openly reviled where I grew up, it was as if I couldn’t allow myself to make the connection. But Margee took me, me, out to her favorite record and book stores, out dancing with her in the gay bars. My teenage years had been such a clenched little fist, I can’t describe how liberating this was, how much inspiration I drew from queers in general.”
But Margee wasn’t the only liberating influence. In L.A., Julianna found herself immersed in “a phonebook’s worth of people I’d never encountered before—artists, actors, jazz musicians, punks, people who weren’t white, the odd poet—and I was lucky enough to become friends with some of them.”
In particular, one new artist friend helped to plant a seed for Julianna. Christa Schmidt’s “effortless, gorgeous drawings tugged at my heart,” Julianna remembers. “I’d drawn all my life, but with no real confidence, no sense of its being something I could call mine. I remember asking Christa once how she did it, and graceful as could be, she replied, ‘It’s all practice. And letting go.’ ”
It took more time, though, before Julianna would find the confidence to really pursue visual art. At first, she turned to music. She had just graduated from Berkeley, where she studied English, when, she says, “a boyfriend and I were playing guitars in his practice space when I decided to try out the drums…I’ve been performing in bands ever since, and I think it’s this more than anything in my life that taught me about practice, that made me finally shake off the painful shyness of my youth and participate.”
- “12 Kites in Flight”
The rhythm of working in music, practicing again and again, gave her the confidence to return to the visual arts. “I started drawing again and suddenly there wasn’t a stingy jury on my shoulder, pronouncing the work obvious or amateurish before I even got going. I drew and drew and I dared myself to look at everything I made with greater gentleness.”
Julianna is genetically sister to a beloved brother, but the thread of chosen sisterhood has also powerfully influenced her artistic life: She has found a new sort of sister in her housemate, Melody Owen. Though they are new friends, they like to talk about art, share a mutual fascination with nature, and have already collaborated on Disappearing Book. More works together may be in the future.
Aunt Margee, too, is still a significant part of Julianna’s life, and in fact Margee and her sister, Julianna’s mom, share a home, along with their mother, in Washington State. And Christa, who first encouraged Julianna to pursue her talents? Still friends; the two women recently visited, and introduced their young children, at Christa’s home in L.A.
Julianna is aware of the power of her female relationships and its influence on her work.
“Along with my mom, the people I think of as my sisters are those muses who found me along the way and dared me to try something. My auntie, my artist friends, my musician friends. A few years before my daughter was born, I was at a rock show, circled around a table with six other women. It occurred to me as I sat there, that every person sitting with me was a ridiculously talented musician or artist or both. And I think what I loved best about this realization was that—for the first time in my life—this felt totally normal, unremarkable. We were all just doing what anybody could.”
- “Sisters Planting”
We love Julianna’s insistence that art is within anybody’s reach, but we see a unique spark in her creations, and we know you will as well.
THE TSP INTERVIEW WITH JULIANNA BRIGHT
Q. You know you’re a sister when …
A. “You can always find the soft part of yourself.”
Q. Best of/worst of experiences with your sisters …
A. “I think my best experiences with my sister friends now are those moments when we’re talking plans and ideas; garden, art, writing, whatever. I love sitting around with my parent friends catching up on the trials and joys of motherhood, mucking around with the toddlers. But I need those other conversations, and feel like I come away from them more myself.
“I don’t know if I have any worst experiences. There have been silences that have cropped up between me and my friends, or moments when it’s felt difficult to connect; however, I’ve come to think of these relationships in long arcs and I’ve found there’s almost nothing I can’t forgive.”
- Julianna, daughter Evelyn, mom Linda, grandmother Margaret and aunt Margee
Q. Are there cultural references you both love, or love to fight about, ones that make you think of your sibling or sister-friend or of sisterhood?
A. “I’ve got a few, extra-precious pals who can be prompted to dance and sing with me like total fools with little more than a suggestion of Joy Division, The Cramps, The Damned or the Buzzcocks. Tom Waits makes me think of my mom and my auntie. Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady makes me think of a precious writer friend who’s too terribly far away from me.
“The book Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, will forever evoke my dear friend Laura, whose daughter (Sylvie) was born five days after my own. EM Forster’s Room with a View will always remind me of my oldest friend, Jodi, with whom I traveled to Italy when I was 19. Oh! And I’m about to watch Grey Gardens tonight with a couple of women I’m crazy about tonight!”
Q. What does the word sister mean to you?
A. “Someone who sees the essential, indivisible and best parts of you, even when you can’t.”
Q. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your sister/sister-friend?
A. “That everything is a practice.”
A GALLERY OF JULIANNA BRIGHT’S WORK
For more of Julianna’s vibrant, lively world, visit her website, and her Etsy shop. The New York gallery Charmingwall also sells a limited number of Julianna’s prints. Up next for Julianna? Writing and illustrating a children’s book called 12 Kites in Flight; recording (with partner in life and art Seth) a six-song EP of lullabies, To Sleep. (A full-length record with the B-side To Wake, will come out some time in 2010 with a companion book of illustrations.) An avid (and again, self-taught) gardener, Julianna also is keeping a blog, called Closer Still, on her website about “the garden, and my aspirations of self-sufficiency.”
Profile of artist Julianna Bright from The Sister Project (c) Margaret Roach, Inc. 2009-2012