I thought it would be intriguing to ask painters this simple yet complex question. This query comes with no ground rules—it’s up to each individual artist to find their own approach and direction.
This project will be an ongoing exploration … let’s see where it takes us.
What is Painting?
Featuring Julia Haw
All art is quite useless. – Oscar Wilde
Painting is watching my mother, Christmas Eve of 2009. She stood there in a dimly lit hospital room, as her mother forgot her name, the beginning of a long road to full memory deterioration.
Painting is my young feet sinking into rich upturned soil after my father plowed the fields. I scavenged for arrowheads, my shirt stretched limp under the weight of collected rocks.
Painting is the wafting scent of lilac trees in Spring, me standing in front of them with my first boyfriend in high school. I wore a pale green silk dress and my best friend hated me for going with her crush to prom.
Painting is the sound of waxy poplar leaves as they brush against each other in the wind.
Painting is me ripping around the garage on roller skates. I was nine and it was raining.
Painting is watching my dad weld, sparks flying. It is him taking out the trash and getting stunning by lightning coursing through the barn floor.
Painting is my rampant young imagination after watching the horror movie “The Hand.” Each night for the following three years, I envisioned a hand curling up over the edge of my bed.
Painting is my lover running a large white Stargazer lily across my naked body before making love to me, the cool leaves against my skin.
Painting is me playing with My Little Ponies as my mom spoke in hushed whispers on the phone because my uncle Bill had just gotten his arm torn off in a tragic farm accident.
Painting is my sister telling me stuffed animals come alive at night to dance, and that Santa Claus isn’t real. It is laughing at her in the bathtub pouring salt over leeches stuck to her skin after jumping in the pond.
Painting is the scattering of pills on a bathroom floor that my ex failed to swallow in a suicide attempt.
Painting is my nephew talking in his sleep, the words soft and indiscernible.
Painting is the stain of memory.
It is loving, tempestuous, sad, exhilarating and sometimes so close to the truth it’s painful.
Oscar Wilde stated, “art is quite useless.” Paintings in particular hang on pristine walls, quiet and staring at patrons. However, Wilde meant uselessness in a utilitarian sense. For the artist the act of painting serves to alleviate the unsettling anxiety of being human by allowing them purpose. And when a viewer interacts with work, it further alleviates their life suffering through the act of empathy. A painting is fully completed by way of its emotional transference to viewer memory, and only in this process of interaction is a painting allowed to live.
Julia Haw, Veil of Memory, 24″ x30″, Oil on Canvas, 2013 – Collection of Maria Boncza
Julia Haw (b. 1982, Flint, MI) attended Western Michigan University with a concentration in painting. In recent years, Haw has begun to be recognized for her highly bold, nostalgia-inducing and memorable themes within her paintings, and is regarded as a skilled artist within the Chicago community. Through her work she contends with the issues pervading her immediate Midwestern culture and Western Culture at large that delve into feminism and marginalized women, ageism, the relation of self to ego, memory deterioration, Western society’s transformed treatment of death as a taboo topic in recent history, and life’s immediate experiences. Utilizing the pictorial plane and oil paint as her medium, she gives honest, empathetic coverage of these socially shared issues, and allows her subject matter to become more easily digested, employing utmost honesty to level the playing field, while drawing from historical, contemporary and rural upbringing influences. She is able to further achieve viewer pause through her daily practice, color use, and by the utilization of her self, objects in her immediate surroundings, and those within her insular artistic community as models. For these reasons, Haw’s paintings function as highly relatable, ensuing discussion amongst her viewers, and bringing the public forum necessarily back. Her work has been exhibited in such places as the Chicago Cultural Center, IL State Museum, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, and extensively in Chicago curator Claire Molek’s spaces.
The artist lives and works in Chicago, IL.
The What Is Painting? Project – More Featured Artists