Julie Harman Dovan // Liminal Space and the Seemingly Oppositional

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For the last couple years, Julie has been exploring the seemingly oppositional. Most recently, through her own disparate experiences growing up in rural Floyd County, Virginia yet living out adulthood in the urban metropolis of Manhattan. Her personal history has been recontextualized in the third-culture emerging between her Manhattan daughters and rugged, Blue Ridge nephews as well as the liminal space these children occupy between childhood and adolescence.

Sometimes I can hardly believe that I live here and am raising my family in New York City.  The contrast is somewhat indescribable. I have to remind myself that my children won’t be milking cows or gathering eggs like I did.  It sort of breaks my heart, but at the same time I love the fact that their life is completely different from my own upbringing. My children are street smart and independent.  They are New Yorkers!

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As Julie meticulously staples together the canvas with the wooden frame, there’s an assurance and comfort in her body language. It’s a small detail alluding to her life before Manhattan. Growing up in 1970’s Appalachia, Julie experienced what she calls a continual, rural recession. Some mornings without running water, lambs and calves warming themselves by the fire, she was well acquainted with the struggles of rural America. But those harsh conditions had their own benefits as they gave way to a wild, Eden-like childhood. Days were spent horseback riding across the vast, rolling hills of Floyd County and picking blackberries by the bucketful on long and lazy summer days. That kind of physical exertion can’t just be erased; it gets ingrained in the body. Physically building her canvases, stretching her arms across big surfaces to paint, these are all things that are intrinsic to Julie’s work. But Julie also works small on occasion. Sometimes she paints little vignettes or parts of faces, alluding to the more cramped, moment-by-moment experience of living in New York City.

The country certainly calls to me! In my work and even in my surroundings, I try so hard to hold on to all of it. Sometimes I am moved to tears. It’s all very emotional. I always try to bring it all back - the antler sheds, the bee’s nests and the skin of a fawn - to where I am living my life at the moment.

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Her loose but accurate style lives somewhere between Impressionism and the American Renaissance, a fitting mixture having an unlikely but enchanting crossover. While visiting her studio, she was beginning a new work. Sketching in their figures, a young boy stands in the center holding a recently shot rabbit, a rifle over his shoulder. The girls, framing the boy, posing in a type of pin-up style.  The children are beaming, proud of the catch, and none of them are aware of the massive culture clash occurring between them. The wild innocence of the whole scene is striking. But Julie’s approach is radical and thought-provoking. Where one might be uncomfortable with the tension in this image, Julie leans in to protect the innocence of the young people, preserving the moment where they are on the cusp of cultural responsibility yet still permitted to be who they are in their natural state.

The scene for this painting evolved so quickly!  It was an instant reminder of the oppositional way that I am bringing up my daughters.  Painting this image was a way to convey the idea but also to hold onto the moment. To hold onto the innocence and the naturalness of the life in the country.