Joanne Julian at Vita Art Center

Ascending Spirits
Joanne Julian, Ascending Spirits, Night Flights, Vita Art Center; Image courtesy of the artist

Night Flights: New Work by Joanne Julian

Vita Art Center, Ventura
through September 28

Written by David S. Rubin
Science and spirituality are often viewed as polar opposites, yet Joanne Julian finds validity in both. In her latest series of large works on paper, she employs a process used by Buddhist monks to paint Zen circles, sacred symbols of enlightenment produced in a single, steady brush gesture. Known as hoboku or “flung ink,” this ritualistic process involves entering into a meditative state and then channeling one’s concentrated spiritual energy while applying ink to paper. Although Julian is not herself a Buddhist, her overall oeuvre includes many variations in ink of traditional Zen circles, but they are shown interacting with other abstract forms and additional mediums, such as acrylic and Prismacolor pencil. In other works, abstraction is forsaken in favor of representational imagery. The current exhibition falls into the latter category, with its subject matter being things that are studied by scientists, including fish, snakes, birds, and plant life, all earth-bound life forms, and stardust, meteor showers, nebulae, and aurorae, all of which reside in outer space.

Three themes that dominate the exhibition could be called “the wonderment of natural phenomena,” “the journey through life,” and “the mystery of the afterlife.” The first is revealed in the dramatic and luminous presentation of meteor showers and aurorae in works such as “Return to Stardust” and “Next Aurora”, where radiant, meticulously painted parallel lines move rapidly through the galaxies, as if each meteorological incident is a miraculous event. In “Emerald in the Stars” an unidentifiable serpentine form is bathed in vibrantly colored streaks that could be interpreted as either the rays of an aurora or the intervention of divine light.

Life’s journey is the focus of several works where fish are shown swimming through glowing sections of gaseous nebulae. In “Going Solo”, a lone koi fish could be considered a surrogate for the artist, who is herself a seasoned swimmer. The message here seems to be that, when faced with adversity, we must swim or we will drown. Accept life’s challenges, never give up, have faith in yourself, keep moving forward.

None of us will ever know beforehand what happens when we die, but Julian’s “Ascending Spirits” expresses hopefulness that humans and animals alike will find tranquility, dignity, and a sense of being at one with the cosmos. Reminiscent of ancient Egyptian tomb paintings, this solemn and most poetic painting depicts a dead crow resting peacefully atop a platform of clouds, having been lifted up by seemingly mystical rays of light. Although the composition is almost entirely black and white, small areas of color on the crow’s feathers suggest that its transition from a physical state to a metaphysical one is not yet complete.

Whether considered from a scientific or a spiritual perspective, there is a beautiful consistent thread in Julian’s new works. It is to be found in their expression of stoic acceptance of life’s inevitable cycles and inspired awe for the universe at large.

Vita Art Center
28 W. Main St., Ventura, 93001



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