In Sync with… Julia Haw (interview)

Julia Haw and Sergio Gomez at the Transient Life Exhibition. 33 Contemporary Gallery, Chicago. Curated by Sergio Gomez

This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with Chicago artist Julia Haw.

I am very excited to present this interview with my friend Julia Haw just a couple days away from the opening of her anticipated exhibition at the Illinois State Museum in Chicago. The first time I encounter Julia’s work, I was confronted by the directness and honesty of her paintings. It was one of those moments where the image stayed in my mind for long time. Since then, I have been following her work and her Facebook posts. Once I met Julia, it became apparent to me that the honesty revealed in the paintings was the true character of the artist. She is direct, smart, talented, awesome and full of energy. I recently had the pleasure to invite her to participate in one of my curated exhibitions at 33 Contemporary Gallery titled The Transient Life. Her work “Cyclamen Dreams or Saying Goodbye (Experience station)” featured an elderly woman being gently lifted up by two body-less floating hands.  Unlike some of Julia’s darker and mysterious works, this painting had a strange and peaceful transient beauty. For me, this work evoked a sense of inevitable transition between this life and the next but with a serenity and gentle awareness. It was as much about life as it was about death without really knowing when one ended and the other began.  I venture to say that Julia Haw is one of the most interesting Chicago artists right now exposing life “as is” without the veneer of our artificial self.

The Last Meal, Oil Stick on Raw Linen, 36x48in., 2013
The Last Meal, Oil Stick on Raw Linen, 36x48in., 2013


SG: Where did you go to school?

JH: I attended school at Western Michigan University. I chose this school primarily based on location and that my sister had attended as well with a graphic design degree. At that time, the painters were all “kept” in a historical building known as East Hall. It was built in 1905 on top of a hill overlooking Kalamazoo, and felt absolutely magical. People from all over the city still flock to the steps to play music, smoke joints and drink beers because the view us the best in the entire city. Once, I watched a kid sled down the treacherous hill only to break several bones. It was dangerous and fascinating – especially considering there were also rumors of asbestos in the building. (So… why not put the painters in there!? – haha)

SG: Do you feel art school prepared you for the art career you have now?

JH: My professors were very interesting and pivotal. One in particular looked at an expressive drawing of mine in a private critique and simply said, “You MUST paint.” Even though I was a photography major at the time, I knew he was right and promptly switched my focus that week. His name is Lou Rizzolo, a white haired Italian, and an energetic professor and artist. He currently has a show up titled “Lo Spirito in Volo through Western’s Richmond Center for the Visual Arts. I can’t wait to see it and hopefully cross his path again! Another professor who was a game changer for me was Randy Walker. He empowered the class by giving us full creative freedom, so long as we could clearly explain our reasons behind the work. Many of the other profs simply called my work very strange, then gave me an A.

SG: What is one thing you wish you had learned at art school?

JH: I’m not sure about this…. because most aspects of the art field you can only truly learn via practice. There are many considerations an artist must take now regarding the business aspect. A few actual business classes may have helped.

SG: What is your website?

You Can Never Go Back Oil on Canvas, 24x24in., 2012 Collection of Marc van der Aart
You Can Never Go Back
Oil on Canvas, 24x24in., 2012
Collection of Marc van der Aart


SG: What are you working on and what inspires you right now?

JH: I just completed a full body of work, about 34 pieces, over the course of seven months. It is now hanging in the IL State Museum’s gallery in the Thompson Center through Aug. 15th. The opening reception is Friday April 25th 5-7PM. See you there! It’s going to be a party!

SG: Some works have a sense of darkness, fear, mystery or perversity. Tell me more about that.

JH: I see, more than ever, humans crave authenticity. How are we truly connecting with one another through our veils of self created personas? At the root of it, we are often afraid. When we leave ourselves exposed, we are vulnerable to being hurt. Thus, we pile on clouds and pillows of niceties and self created euphemisms, mostly to avoid the topic that we have a finite time and could lose anyone or ourselves at any minute. As humans I think we like measures and controls because beyond that, we are unable to control. Let me make clear: I am a control “freak.” This is why love is difficult for me. Love brings us closer to remembering we will die. When we love hard, this comes with the remembrance we’ll lose this person. I like to talk about difficult subject matters as well as normal, mundane matters, because they are absolutely the same.

SG: Your subject matter appears to explore our psyche, both consciously and unconsciously. Do you hope to appeal to our common human experiences?

JH: 100%. Through the act of sharing my personal suffering or experiences, many others share the same. This is because…… I am human.

The Veiled Puker, Pencil, Prismacolor and Way Crayon on Found
The Veiled Puker, Pencil, Prismacolor and Way Crayon on Found

SG: Tell me more about your upcoming show at the Thompson Center in April.

JH: I left for New York last August for regeneration of my spirit. A close friend of mine had passed away and I would sit there in the heat of summer, crying in front of a painting. My current work then left a boring, sad taste in my mouth. I stopped creating for a few weeks and made it a point to soak in life. I felt very restored after that month in Brooklyn and when I came back, opened my email to a message from the new director of the IL State Museum, John Lustig, with a studio request. This set us on seven months of working closely together as I created this new body of work. I stripped down my previous work as I was being compared to Kehinde Wiley and other artists who utilize repetition. While I don’t discount my previous work at all, nor the works of the artists I was compared to, I find a truthfulness more than ever in this new body of work. This work is MY voice, no “piggybacking.” This will be up through August 15th, 2014. The show consists of 32 works. The opening reception is April 25, 5-7PM.

SG: Do you find social media to be a distraction or an asset for you as an artist and how do you deal with it?

JH: An asset. I deal with it by first staying abreast with art world happenings. This truly helps my understanding of where I exist as an artist in a global context. I read Blouinartinfo a ton, Huffington Post, Bad at Sports, Artfcity, articles by Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith. It’s also important to stay current with Chicago notables like Jason Foumberg, Pedro Vélez and Paul Germanos. I talk EXTENSIVELY about art/work/curation/life with my insular community which includes the insights of cultural leaders like Claire Molek. I also converse daily with slews and slews of artists BUSTING ASS. I also follow leading art dealer Todd Levin for further insight. Furthermore, I research the rosters galleries keep. SO MUCH INFORMATION at our fingertips! AFTER all this, I can gauge what’s happening around me and can much more easily deal with utilizing social medias. I think many artists are turned off by the aspect of “branding” (shudder… I hate that word), but this is not an era where we can play the “isolated” artist anymore. (unless you like being broke) Everything is at our fingertips all the time and this is both daunting and exhilarating. I see deciding how to navigate this as a contemporary challenge. But before all this, and after all this, guess what? It’s about the work. Oh yeah! The work. 🙂

Fortitude of Heart Oil on Canvas, 36x48in., 2007, (first oil painting ever executed)
Fortitude of Heart
Oil on Canvas, 36x48in., 2007, (first oil painting ever executed)

SG: What is your biggest challenge as a contemporary artist?

JH: Keeping my head and heart focused on the creation of the work. Consistently remembering that after everything, as I said above, the work is what creates artistic validity. Putting in hundreds of hours, many of them very lonely.

SG: How much does the art market influence your art production?

JH: I enjoy reading about the baffling nature of the art market. Oscar Murillo say what? But I create what I feel….

The Loveless Oil on Panel, 16x20in., 2009
The Loveless
Oil on Panel, 16x20in., 2009


SG: What excites you about Chicago’s art scene?

JH: The fact that we are raw, and true and hardworking. DAMN we have so many good artists here in Chicago. The biggest aspect of our communities that excites me is our camaraderie. When I go to shows, no matter where, there are hugs and great conversations. We make it to each other’s shows. We turn out. We build and support. Forget the old curmudgeon bullshit, and the pointing of fingers of who isn’t doing it right. The public forum and giving respect where it’s due is everything.

SG: Do you believe gallery representation today is as important as it has been in the past?

JH: No.

The Fear of Julia Haw Oil and Acrylic Montana Spraypaint on Canvas, 36x48in., 2011
The Fear of Julia Haw
Oil and Acrylic Montana Spraypaint on Canvas, 36x48in., 2011


Book… The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, or Big Sur by Kerouac (this book in particular is so massively different from On The Road – it presents the dichotomy of Kerouac’s spirit and we all have this darker, struggling aspect. Please, read it NOW.

Art movie or documentary… ”Life is Beautiful” directed by Roberto Benigni, “Dreams” and “Rhapsody in August” by Kurosawa (I love the quietness in his films. So poignant yet subtle.)

Art museum… AIC (duh)…. but love visiting MOMA and the Gugg. Also last year I had achance to visit the Fort Worth Museum, and it was surprisingly exciting and beautiful, allowing breathing room for the works of art. Oh, and the Louvre…. SWOON!

Contemporary artist/actress:  Tilda Swinton, Food: Iliana Regan of Elizabeth, Architecture: John Clark or Jeanne Gang, Art: Don’t Fret Music: Blood Orange or Rafi El, Writing: Mark Turcotte. All these artists present challenging material, and able to transform themselves, and create new facets of art. They present materials, life in a new way, sometimes uncomfortable, often humorous. They blow me away. They are a melding of our times.

Place to be inspired by… No tongue in cheek, wherever you’re sitting right now. Walk outside. You woke up today. Amazing.

One sentence advice for an art student… Bust ass.

Chicago cafe/restaurant… Toni Patisserie and Cafe for the best Salade de Saumon you’ll ever have. Avec — Douse yourself in the fragrant olive oil and fresh bread. Reno for stone baked pizza and an appetizer called the Wisconsin Burrata. Ipsento on Western has the best coffee in the city.

YouTube video… Any super cheesy hiphop video. I’m on it and I love it.




One comment

  1. Wonderful interview with Julia Haw, Sergio!  Congratulations!  A great read…James Rousonelos

    Please keep me posted about the next self-portrait show at 33.

    Thank you much.


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