Art is a journey

Julianna Sophia makes her own way through painting.

For Julianna Sophia, making art is an experience as much as an outcome, a journey as much as a destination. “My objective is to express the feelings of joy and awe that nature inspires in me,” she writes in her artist’s statement. “I believe that painters have a vocabulary of color, texture, and other elements of design at their disposal that can be more powerful than words or even music in evoking an emotional response.”


Passion for the process of creating is as much the point for Sophia as is the passion for the subject she is revealing. Which may help explain why her paintings cover so many styles and media. Most recently, the artist’s work has been on view at both the Pathways ArtSpace in Chilmark and the West Tisbury library as part of their group show “Light.”
For the latter, she has chosen to show landscapes. For the former, she has contributed a selection of portraits and other subjects done in a very contemporary style, as well as a few abstracted landscapes. Among the paintings featured at Pathways are a self portrait executed in a folk art style, and a wonderfully stylized painting called “The Women,” which features multiple fine line images of figures blended into a colored swirling pattern. There are also some lovely simply rendered images of flowers with abstract elements and a couple of paintings of Balinese women.


The selection at the West Tisbury library displays a more traditional approach. Her deeply emotive landscape paintings benefit from a painterly execution with lots of layering and evident brushstrokes used to create very vivid scenes.


The sheer joy of expression is evident in all of Sophia’s work. “I’ve always loved paint ever since I was a little kid,” she says. “I really like to do things with my hands. I only draw with one hand but I paint with both arms. I really like the whole experiential process of being with paints—putting them on and scraping them off.”


Sophia also tries to incorporate her environment into her work. She often creates dyes with things like poke berries from her yard, and loves to paint on locally sourced birch boards and handmade paper. When possible, she recycles scraps of construction materials for her frames. “I really like working with found objects,” she says.


Sophia has been working as a professional artist since early adulthood. She has always been inspired by nature. One of her earliest inspirations was the fields and flowers of the Netherlands, where she spent time working on a graduate fellowship. In 1994 she moved to Carmel, Calif., where she painted with the renowned artist Gerald Wasserman. “The most important thing I learned from him was not to be daunted by conventional technique,” she says. “He used to say, ‘If you are true to your feelings that will appear on the canvas.’” The fact that she has since taken that advice to heart is clearly in evidence in all of her work.


After moving to the Island, Sophia found another mentor in the acclaimed Vineyard artist Allen Whiting. “I’ve been friends and colleagues with Allen for 20 years,” she says. “He hasn’t strictly been a teacher but we’ve hung out and painted together. Just his liking my work has kept me on top of things.”


Currently, Sophia is focusing on landscape painting. “I’m looking forward to deepening my work and also showing my work more,” she says.


On the Vineyard, Sophia’s work has been shown at the former Dragonfly Gallery, the Sargent Gallery, the Island Art Gallery, Featherstone, the Carnegie, and the Chilmark library. She has also exhibited at galleries in Westport, Conn., Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Carmel. For a dozen years, Sophia ran a little studio/gallery out of a shed outside her former home in Quansoo. Her work has been collected by people all over the globe.
Concurrently with her continuing landscape work, Sophia is pursuing a very ambitious art project titled Project Elevation: Multidimensional Journey Into Art as Medicine. The projected installation/immersive/performance art project will involve audience members enjoying a multi-sensory healing experience while the artist creates with physical enhancements like shooting arrows, and large brushes tied to her arms to enable her to create brushstrokes while performing tai chi moves. Discussion, herbal refreshments, music, and sound effects will all be part of the experiment, which Sophia is currently in the process of pitching to various arts organizations.


The artist is continually experimenting and working on advancing her skills. “I keep plugging away,” she says. “That’s what I do. Especially during these times, I find my work to be a huge solace to me. It helps me not only to express my truth but it brings me into a meditative state.”

Check out Julianna Sophia’s work at Pathways, via their website, pathwaysmv.org. You can also view Sophia’s work on Instagram @juliannsophia3.