I want to paint things people don’t necessarily look at anymore. Things and places that have become so familiar, they lost their appeal or novelty.
It took 20 years of painting and sketching and drawing, a stressful and time-consuming job as an English teacher in Japan, to finally find my artistic voice. It also took all this time to gather enough courage to show my work and to find the words to talk about it.
Being in Japan should have been the beginning of a new life for me. One that did not include Art as a possibility anymore. I had my fill of oils and pastels and acrylic, I was tired of it all, abandoning the idea of ever finding my personal style. In Japan, it was like being deaf, blind and mute. I couldn’t understand most of what people were telling me. I couldn’t read the signs nor could I converse freely without an interpreter. I couldn’t even go see a doctor or go to the bank unless I had someone who could translate.
I realize today that it was a blessing because what was left for me to understand were the basics: colors and lines.
Things that seemed completely common to the natives were completely new to me. They even carried a whole different meaning. For example, the electric wires crisscrossing above my head when walking on the streets of Nagasaki. There were hundreds of them all over the city. I remember thinking that they looked like fish nets. That we were the fish. To me they were an essential part of the town’s aesthetics and I couldn’t not include them in my paintings.
Then I came home.
Surrounded by the familiar places again, I started looking for those lines and colors. The same ones that came easily to me while in Japan. Thankfully they were there all along, all I had to do was look at them.
There is beauty in common places and things too
Taking pictures of everything and anything to illustrate our lives has become a very natural and automatic thing to us. Social media feed on them. Hundreds of thousands of clouds are filled with them. We “selfie” for any occasion. There are so many images around that I can’t help but wonder if we have the capacity to really look at them anymore.
I am no different from everyone else. Although I don’t have picture filled clouds, I like the idea of illustrating my environment and my life with my paintings. For that, I walk around with this little red camera that has become over the years my work partner.
I take pictures of the streets I go through, the places I visit, the roads I drive on, the people around me going about their everyday lives.
Some of these pictures will stay in my camera for a year maybe more. They’re maturing. When time has gone by and I look at them again, that’s where what I didn’t see at first stares right back at me. Sometimes it’s just in a small detail of the picture, sometimes it’s the whole picture. I see that green trash can by a tree for example, or that blue graffiti on the top of a building, and the bouquet of lines that get there and around, and the colors that wrap all these lines up into something that to me is worth painting because it’s beautiful.
Julie Ann Harmsworth (Julie Harms), 2015.