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New Visions: Julie Bozzi - Contemporary Landscapes

by Amy V. Grimm

 

The tradition of American landscape painting calls to mind artists such as Thomas Cole, Frederic Church and Asher B. Durand. During the westward expansion, 19th century American artists translated their awe of newly discovered frontiers onto canvas. These landscape paintings were often panoramic vistas that portrayed the land as untapped resources for potential expansion. Many artists during this time studied abroad and were influenced by European art, but by the 20th century, American artists were asserting their own cultural identity and style.

Today, landscape painting continues to be an important subject in American art. Artists continue to sketch and paint outdoors but technology has impacted their methodology. And, it is the automobile that shapes the world-view of Texas artist Julie Bozzi. She finds her inspiration from drives on interstate highways, dusty country roads, and city streets. Literally using her car as a studio, Bozzi turns into abandoned parking lots, or on the shoulder of a road, rolls down her window and begins to work. The steering wheel serves as her easel, predetermining the intimate scale of her art. In her car/studio Bozzi uses a variety of media that include: oils, watercolors and gouache on surfaces such as paper, canvas, linen and panel. It is no surprise that Bozzi's creative process is often perplexing to passing motorists, security guards and pedestrians. [1]

Despite the diminutive size of her art, Bozzi challenges the viewer with images that most of us ignore. Her direct frontal, horizontal representation of the land departs from the more traditional compositional elements associated with landscape painting. But, it is the scale of her work that initially piques the viewer's interest. Bozzi's experience as a laboratory assistant and illustrator in the science department at Stanford University seems to be a likely influence on her painting.[2] Her focus on detail and scientific methodology is evident in her observations of the landscape and her notes (sometimes on the work) about specific locations and times of day. Bozzi paints with precision and like traditional landscape artists such as Thomas Cole, she creates detailed studies of elements important to the finished work, such as shrubs, vines or broken concrete.

Bozzi's landscapes, however, are much more than scientific illustrations and notations, but rather a unique vision of the land. Although attentive to the details of branches, trees and the shifting color of the sky, it is her unique brushwork that creates a subtle veiled reality. Departing from the tradition of the picturesque that relies on an artificially created focal point, Bozzi quietly explores the edges of the land. Her vision of the landscape is not a romanticized postcard for tourism but rather relies on stripping away the pretense of predictability. These landscapes are the transitory areas that are the in-between spaces, punctuating our starting and ending destinations, places we never fully notice.

In these paintings, Bozzi intellectually taps into our unconscious and the psychology of expectation. She achieves layers of meaning by painting specific landscapes that paradoxically could be anywhere. She depicts, with ordered detail, those areas that are in our periphery that are often regarded as insignificant. Adding to the ephemeral quality of the landscape is the omission of the human figure. While this evokes a sense of isolation, Bozzi does provide evidence of human activity by the inclusion of light posts, fences or other man-made objects. The viewer imagines something more just beyond the edges of the painting, hidden from sight. And, this suggestion compels us to look deeper. A tension of expectation is created where mildly familiar and ordinary representations of the landscape take on a mysterious stillness.

Since the 1970s Bozzi has painted en plein air where she continues to discover the unusual. In the 1980s and 1990s, Bozzi created a body of work that explored the darker side of human existence. The Black Paintings, such as After the Rain and Eclipse were created at the location of several separate murders. She talks about one experience:

"One evening, as I was painting in my car, a crowd of spectators began to gather along the levee across the road. With toddlers perched on their shoulders and small children jumping at thier sides, parents elbowed for an unobstructed view of officials pulling the waterlogged body of a man, victim number four, from the Trinity River."[3]

The revelation of the drowned victim was certainly a surprise for the artist, who later learned that this area was historically notorious for the enshrouding of dead bodies. Undeterred, or perhaps intrigued by these circumstances, Bozzi worked at other sites with similar notoriety. Those familiar with the history of the Fort Worth area might immediately identify locations such as the murder site that is a subject of her gouache painting, Ruins-Cullen Davis Complex-Fort Worth Texas.[4] To distinguish the Black Series, Bozzi designs faux marble frames that represent gravestone markers. A viewer would not realize the drama of these paintings nor the significance of the faux marble frames. But, after learning of Bozzi's experiences, the works take on new meaning.

At first glance, Bozzi's landscapes are far removed from these dark and lethal events. Her paintings' subtle complexity not only creates an otherworldly tension but also sparks our curiosity. In a quiet way, Bozzi has created a unique body of work that offers a powerful new vision for contemporary landscape painting, changing how we view the world around us.

 

Notes

1. Conversation with Julie Bozzi, August 2004.

2. Ibid. I wish to thank Becky Duval Reese for encouraging my understanding of the importance of Julie Bozzi's laboratory work and for introducing me to her Bozzi research for, Texas Images and Visions, 1983.

3. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Julie Bozzi: Landscapes 1975-2003, p.10.

4. Telephone conversation with the artist, October 2004.

 

About the exhibition

From November 14, 2004 - February 13, 2005, the El Paso Museum of Art featured the exhibition New Visions: Julie Bozzi-Contemporary Landscapes. Texas painter Julie Bozzi rejects traditional grandiose landscape in favor of small- scale works that invite intimate attention from each viewer. Bozzi's landscapes explore ideas of isolation, self and the tension between the ordinary and otherworldly. "The El Paso Museum of Art is proud to celebrate the talent of Texas artists such as Julie Bozzi, an important contemporary artist from Fort Worth," commented Amy Grimm, Curator. "Bozzi achieves layers of meaning in her evocative landscapes by creating a sense of mystery for the viewer."

Bozzi hails from Fort Worth, Texas and the University of California, Davis, where she received both her BA and MFA. She also attended the Skowhegen School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegen, Maine. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Individual Artist's Fellowship from Art Matters, Inc. and the National Endowment for the Arts. Bozzi's work has been shown at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.


About the author

Amy V. Grimm is Curator at the El Paso Museum of Art.


rev. 3/10/05

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