May 30, 2015

2015: Julia Haw on Leaving Chicago

Biography: My name is Julia Lynn Haw. I'm 33 years old, and I hail from Davison, Michigan. Davison is a small, middle-class city: fifteen minutes east of Flint, and one hour north of Detroit.

Above: Julia Haw, May 2015, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Image provided by artist; black & white (halftone) filter applied; resized for publication.
I began life as a blonde-haired farm girl with dirt behind her ears. I was a tomboy; I hated shopping.
My family's land was near the edge of a fading, old swamp. And I spent the better half of my childhood there playing outdoors: climbing trees, collecting rocks, and scouring the freshly-tilled fields for arrowheads. I held swirling ideas of mysticism and fantasy, and carried an abundance of creativity with no reliance on the world of internet, video games or cable television.

My dad never used credit cards; he tore the collars out of his uncomfortable shirts; and he burned our family's trash in a huge stove in one of the many barns he built behind our house. My mom, now retired, was a fourth-grade teacher in an elementary school. I truly "made her feel like a mother,” in the words of my best friend, as I was very rebellious in my teenage years.

I was painfully shy in kindergarten, and I spoke as little as possible; my teacher asked my mom if everything was OK. I believe I wasn’t used to the confines of a classroom and received most of my inner guidance from cats and trees.

In second grade I got glasses: pink plastic glasses with a silver heart on each corner. I had a crush on a guy in my reading group, and I'd hide my glasses each time I went there.

Above: Julia Haw with Jerry Saltz at the Expo Chicago art fair, September 19, 2013. Image provided by artist; black & white (halftone) filter applied; resized for publication.
In middle school I started to come out of my shell. Romantic and idealistic, I believed I was in love with boys without ever having spoken to them. I wore vests with sunflowers, and silver earrings which dangled. In eighth grade, I discovered the Beatles when I threw “Meet the Beatles” on my dad’s old record player in the basement. I obsessed over them, acquired bell bottoms before anyone else did at that time, flashed peace signs when I could and mourned the fact I wasn’t alive for Woodstock '69.

In the basement of our home I shared an art studio with my sister. I considered myself the black sheep of the family, and I maintained a slight inferior complex: constantly compared myself to my older brother and sister.

Above:  Julia Haw, 1996, Davison, Michigan, USA. Original halftone newspaper print reproduction of a photograph from The Davison Flagstaff. Image provided by artist; converted to black & white; cropped and resized for publication.
Then, in eighth grade I won best of show in the Davison Art Show. I had developed more faith in my personal work and continued to create with a VERY unnecessary ego. My new high school art teacher battled my ego, and had a "chin wagging" with my mom; but he appreciated my abilities, and I won a few more prizes, and I was invited to recite poetry at the annual art show.

In high school I got braces. I was a band nerd, having played percussion since the fifth grade. I went to band camp in the remote cornfields of Ohio, and I became very outgoing. I had friends from many different “groups.” I was at once an outsider and an insider.

I attended college at Western Michigan University. I switched my major a couple times: from fashion to photography to painting. When I was accepted into the painting program I knew that it was the right path for me. From 2004 onward, I developed a serious, professional interest in the world of painting. At WMU , the painters were tucked away in a historic building called East Hall, which sat on top of a huge hill overlooking the city. We blasted music late through the night. The walls flaked their lead-based paint; but that didn’t matter. We were the painters! With the help of the Gwen Frostic Foundation, WMU has since erected a new, beautiful building; it has huge sunlit studios and several large galleries. We were “roughing it" back then!

Above:  Julia Haw's "Human Fodder" 2006, acrylic on canvas, produced at Western Michigan University. Image provided by artist; black & white (halftone) filter applied; resized for publication.
In 2006 I won best of show while in my senior year at WMU. I won for a slightly abstract piece entitled “Human Fodder,” which was painted with acrylic house paint over board and canvas wrapped in string. The piece honored fallen soldiers, and played on the term "cannon fodder," viz., a “derogatory term for combatants who are regarded or treated as expendable in the face of enemy fire.”

Expectations: I used to frequent a dive bar in Kalamazoo, Michigan, called Green Top. One night there I ran across a man named Mark Turcotte, who, in my opinion, is one of the best living poets today. He gave me a copy of his book "Exploding Chippewas," for which Tony Fitzpatrick had produced a cover.

Above: Julia Haw with Mark Turcotte at Erin and Claire's, a/k/a Studio 1020's, "The First Ward Ball," an interactive community performance scripted by Scott M. Priz, July 31, 2011, at 3220 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL.
I was deeply moved by the portion of that book called “Road Noise,” which dealt with Mark's grief following the the death of his estranged father. And thereafter I received a grant from the Kalamazoo Arts Council which subsidized a series of paintings based on Turcotte's literary work. I also had solo show at which Mark did a reading.

Mark guided me to Chicago, first by means of a visit to Tony Fitzpatrick's huge show at the Cultural Center in 2008. I was fascinated by Tony's work. And then Mark brought me to Tony’s studio; at the time, Tony was still working in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. I had never before been to a working artist’s studio. I was blown away. Being a fresh 26 year-old, meeting Tony was a momentous occasion for me. A week away from signing a lease in Brooklyn, I scrapped my plans to move to NYC, and I came to Chicago.

Above: Tony Fitzpatrick with artwork, candid, at Studio 1020, March 27, 2010.
Mark (Turcotte) passed through Chicago again, and he brought me to Tony’s studio a second time. Tony offered me a job. While in his employment, I expected to learn from him: a working artist. And I did have a number of opportunities made available to me. For example, at (curator) Dan Cameron’s Prospect.1 biennial in New Orleans, Tony brought in a few artists (including myself) and gave us our own wall in the old funeral home where he was showing work.

Through Tony (Fitzpatrick) I met: Claire Molek, Mike Pajon, Damara Kaminecki, KS Rives, Dan Cameron, Steve Conrad, Jon McNaughton, Dmitry Samarov, and Wesley Kimler. I also shared an Italian dinner with his friends Neko Case and The New Pornographers! I had never been a part of this sort of creative life before: here was an artist who made a solid living, and surrounded himself with a beautiful cast of characters. My eyes were OPEN.

Above: Wesley Kimler, in his studio, December 20, 2009.
After working for Tony, I worked for Wesley Kimler, and then Steve Conrad. I ran a household for a doctor and lawyer; I managed an art, wine and car collection for Carl and Marilynn Thoma; and, I  learned to hustle. For the past three years I've been able to work for myself. I’ve shown art with Claire Molek (The Studio, Hauser Gallery, Brave New Art World), Illinois State Museum, Chicago Cultural Center and Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (New Orleans). I’ve enjoyed a considerable amount of press in the past few years, especially with my recently completed body of works titled “The Western Veil.” It, “The Western Veil,” has just reopened at the Illinois State Museum, Lockport. Currently I'm working on: (1) a body of work entitled “Comfort and Control,” (2) the release of my first artistic catalogue published by The Chicago Perch, and (3) a collaboration with Gracie Hagen concerning relationships.

School: I did not attend school in Chicago.

Activity: To summarize my time in Chicago: I've been in practice here for eight years. And I've enjoyed much, if not all, of my success on my own terms. I've had no representation--other than Claire Molek. The community here is amazing, and essential to me. My particular community includes artists and curators, as well as non-artists and non-curators.

I'm enjoying my peak experience right now, because my work is better and more seasoned than it's ever been. Having written that, I've had many frustrating moments in the short arc of my career, e.g., rejections, or showing in spaces that weren’t the right fit, and I've had periods where I had no sales and my anxiety was through the roof.

Above: Erin and Claire (Molek) at center, a/k/a Studio 1020, and Stephanie Burke at right, July 31, 2011.
Notoriety: Chicago knows me via my work. Chicago knows me as a colorful, confrontational, and empathetic painter with a story behind every piece. The narrative aspect of my work has really hit home with many members of my audience. I feel I have been more understood than misunderstood, because I am simply sharing the common experience of every man and woman through my work.

I think “Power Pussy” was my most misunderstood or controversial work to date. It was a combative piece, created in response to George Baselitz’s statement in a Spiegel interview that “women can’t paint,” and it was accompanied by an essay with sexist examples from the past year. Women felt very empowered by that piece. I hear it has now been resold for triple the amount I sold it for, and I’m trying to find out who owns it as the seller hasn’t been in contact with me.

Departure: I leave Chicago often. I leave Chicago at least once a month--even if it's only for a short trip home to Michigan to see my family. I spent over six months in Australia this past year as I fell in love with a man who lived in Byron Bay, NSW. We traveled around to the Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. I painted at the apartment when my partner went to work.

Above: Julia Haw at Byron Bay, NSW, Australia, in 2014. Image provided by artist; black & white (halftone) filter applied; resized for publication.
On my first trip to Australia I spent too much time in the ocean. The second time I went, I buried myself in a new series completing ten works; the pieces were rooted in new perspective, slight humor and of course my signature darkness. They're a departure for me and have been received well. Soon, I plan to head to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Travel is essential for my work and overall health. It (travel) helps to maintain the perspective
necessary for me to create; it opens my soul and vision to new worlds. I walk and I experience, I breath and laugh and cry. I need to leave Chicago in order to RETURN to Chicago, and to truly understand the beast that Chicago is.

Perspective & Connectivity: While traveling, and looking at Chicago from the outside, I better see the community we have here. I've established a family here. And we are hustlers. We get out and talk to each other; we attend each others' shows. Sometimes, when we haven’t had a sale, we don’t eat as much as we'd like. And when we have dinner parties everyone breaks off a piece of bread to bring home with them. Our work is different and strange, it comes from the gut, it comes from a blue collar, Midwest ethic.

Above: Julia Haw's "The Fall of John Lease" 2010, 28 x 34 inches, oil on canvas, Collection of Sandbox Industries. Black & white (halftone) filter applied; resized for publication.
I feel that positioning Chicago as an
“underdog,” or a “second city,” striving to be like New York, is really cliche. We are our own beast. We don’t have to be anything else; and why would we want to be? Perhaps once we collectively realize we don’t have to be something else, or become more unified, or talk more, or show more, or open more galleries, or gain more press, we'll be in a better place. We ARE there. We ARE here. And we keep spiraling out into the global sphere. Chicago is its own entity, and it’s awesome.

Information: I stay up-to-date through regular visits, long talks with friends, and some online media sources when I’m away.

Above: Julia Haw's studio in use, in 2015, in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Image provided by artist; black & white (halftone) filter applied; resized for publication.
I've developed a practice which allows me to work anywhere. And wherever I go in the world I will always return to Chicago, whether to live, or to work, or to show my art. 

For me, “place” is wherever I feel I need to be at any given moment; in that sense, yes, place is important. That said, it's less-and-less important where an artist IS; the internet has changed things. What matters, now, is only that the work is created, and it’s taken to that next level.

- May 14, 2015 (C) Julia Haw

Learn more about Julia Haw and her work by visiting her website:

Images (1-4, 9, and 11) provided by Julia Haw; black and white (halftone) filter applied; resized for publication.

Images (5-8, and 10) above copyright (C) 2009-2011 Paul Germanos.

Edited by Paul Germanos. Apologies for errors and omissions. Contact using the information at right.

Amended by Julia Haw, on May 30, 2015,
to preserve her idiom in text.

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