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Meet Artist Julie Smith whose Studio I visited while vacationing in Ptown. Massachusetts.


Artist Julie Smith

Julie Smith’s bold landscapes and florals invite us to travel to places beyond the everyday. Her aerial paintings take us sky-high, and her detailed investigations of plants require us to lean in. Through the work, she invites us to contemplate the structures that make up our world. Her use of color and investigation of form results in complex compositions that are both delightful and mysterious.

Of this body of work, Smith reflects, “Wherever I walk in P’town I see amazing flowers and landscapes. Trying to discern complex color relationships and shapes to make a painting has been gratifying beyond words.”

Julie Smith was born and raised in Texas. After receiving a BFA from the University of Texas, she moved to Aspen, CO where she attended the Center of the Eye School of Photography. After five years, she relocated permanently to the East Coast. In 1993, she received her MFA with Honors in Painting and Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Smith has exhibited and lectured widely in the New England area. She has taught in the Continuing Education Department at Rhode Island School of Design, School One in Providence, and St. George’s School in Middletown, RI, as well as Ah Haa School for the Arts in Telluride, CO. In 2000, Smith was awarded Best In Show by the Newport Art Museum for the Member’s Juried Exhibition. Smith resides in Provincetown in the summer and Newport, RI in the off-season.


I am fascinated by Julie’s project “100+ Women Over 50” Oil on-board portraits of 100+ Women over 50. The women are from RI, MA, CO, and MN.

100+ Women Over 50

Several factors motivated me to start this project. My friend, Peter Hocking, revealed in a conversation in 2005 that he was painting 100 gay men. So I decided to paint 100 women. First I painted my friends; they then suggested others.

Then I went to Minneapolis where I painted my partner, Polly’s, friends. And then I met Jane Westerlund and Lauren Stringer who brought me whole families and book clubs. The project now has a life of its own it seems; people have heard about it and want to be part of it. I am so touched and amazed

I became interested in groups of face paintings when I first saw Susanna Coffee’s paintings of herself in NY in the early 90’s. It was unexpectedly powerful, as were Gerhard Richter’s 48 paintings of paternity figures, which were displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in 2002 as part of his retrospective

I started this project in 2008 and finished the first 100 paintings in 2013. I am enjoying the process so much that I want to continue into the second 100. I feel privileged to spend time doing something I love while spending 6 hours or more engaging in very meaningful conversation and hearing some really wild life experiences. We talk a lot, mostly about families of origen. Almost everyone has a pretty crazy tale to tell. I certainly do. This became a common way of connecting, telling our stories. I wish I could write some of these truly amazing biographies but it would shatter the intimacy of the experience.

Nearly everyone says it is an uncommon and relaxing experience sitting for 6 hours, being nonproductive, just talking and listening. Hardly any of us ever do that during daytime hours without guilt. We feel we have to be busy during the day.

Many sitters express how unusual it is to be truly looked at. It is not the norm in our culture to be so closely, visually studied. Mostly we feel it’s rude or invasive but it actually creates an intimate space for painter and sitter. No longer are the over 50s invisible. This project is about regaining visibility and power in a culture that is youth obsessed.

I think of the 100 individual paintings as one big, strong, powerful image of the strength of older women. Aren’t we grand? Shouldn’t we be seen? And with the baby boomers coming of age there are now so many of us. We are a community of older, mature women who are proud to recognize each other and our many diverse accomplishments. Our progress has made it easier for our younger sisters to make their marks in business and science and the arts. We are a community of wise women and we celebrate ourselves. We are fabulous. We are here.
The Process
I do the paintings from life. I find I can’t get the information I need from photographs. I need to hear the person talking, watch their facial expressions, find out who they are in order to distill their essence into a painting. These are not glamorized portraits. I want to know who the person really is.

I divide the sittings into three days consisting of two hours each day. The first day I draw using only Raw Umber because it dries overnight. I use Baltic Birch plywood because I like the solidity of working on board rather than the bounce of canvas. I cover the surface with paint and then draw in the features and take out paint with a cloth so that the drawing shows form and volume. It looks like a monoprint.

On the second day I mix the colors and try to get the board covered even if the colors aren’t exactly right. Color is relative. So if I can get all the color onto the painting on the second day, I can concentrate on the third day refining, changing, getting it right.

This is a highly focused process of looking, seeing, more looking, translating a three dimensional person sitting in front of me into a two dimensional representation of who I think that person is. The process is very intense. After it’s over and the sitter is gone, I pull out another board and use up the paint in a completely free and abstract way. This process uses another part of my brain. I work on several abstracts at once until I feel I’ve brought the painting to resolution. Sometimes I do something that is just right and needs no change. Those are the magic moments I love. This is the flip side of the portrait paintings, pure abstract thinking and action, as opposed to the very close and highly focused observation of the portraits. It completes the whole process.

You can pickup a copy of Julie’s book here:

Julie Shelton Smith
Newport, Rhode Island



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