More than 130 people braved wet roads on Friday, Jan. 25 to enjoy a reception at the CSUN art gallery for a new exhibition titled “Counterpoints,” by local artist Joanne Julian.
The Los Angeles native received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sculpture and printmaking at CSUN, and then received a second master’s degree in fine arts, from Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design.
The show is a revealing display of how Julian’s work has evolved over a 25-year period. Paintings were chosen from five series completed at various points in her career, culminating in pieces completed as recently as 2007.
But artistic evolution does not seem to be the goal of the exhibit; rather, as the title suggests, the curators, Louise Lewis and Robert McDonald, allow us to examine the two extremes of Julian’s work, which has a decidedly Asian sensibility. Paintings with the same general theme, like the Zen circles which fill the main section of the gallery, vary dramatically from soft, sparkling colors and light brush strokes, to bold black and red statements that carry with them a sense of violence.
Called enso in Japan, the artistic practice of Zen circles is a central aspect of Zen art and are often used by Buddhist monks as a meditative practice. This is not a religious practice for Julian – the artist, in a statement included in the exhibit catalog, said she is not a Buddhist but that “effective imagery without pretense” is her goal.
The circles selected by the artist and curators range from bold, monochromatic swooshes rendered with vigor and confidence that capture the Zen ideal of less is more, to disconcerting di-chromatic pieces made of blood red paint and graphite that seem somehow out of balance, to lightly brushed circles of celadon and gold with gingko leaves falling through them. The exhibit also shows several collage circles.
An element brought forward into many of the circles from one of the artist’s earliest series, called Wigs, is a braid of hair. One of the earliest works displayed is a finely detailed, representational painting of a geisha’s wig. The viewer sees this wig devolve to single strands of hair as the gallery is traversed. Sometimes it is a braid, tightly woven, sometimes with a ribbon running through it, and then it becomes free-flowing tresses or a veil partially obscuring the circle. In some pieces, the hair may be rendered as a flowing river and then in another as being violently cut away.
The botanical series includes sensual, colorful anthurium stems and ti leaves (a member of the lily family) which flow into the fish series, featuring koi in a variety of styles ranging from very representational to nearly abstract.
An unusual technique employed by Julian in both of these series is the monoprint. That technique might just as easily be “moon prints,” because of their ethereal shimmer. In one monoprint, swimming carp softly gleam against a stark black background, as though they were glimpsed by the light of a full moon. In the next, the artist has added prismacolor or acrylic paint, creating a completely different look.
This embellishment is something Julian seems to do throughout her work. It’s as if she starts with a simple and straightforward idea, like a circle, but then feels compelled to add more. She then comes back around, full circle as it were, in some of her most recent pieces, the previously mentioned monochromatic Zen circles?simple, elegant, bold and mysterious.
The exhibition continues through Feb. 23. The Main Gallery is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. except on Thursdays when it stays open until 8 p.m.