Some painters sole purpose is place—take the Hudson River School artists—while others use their art to dream up entirely new realities. Julia Whitney Barnes falls squarely in the second category. "There are several places and several experiences in each painting," Whitney Barnes says of her work.
When she was in her early 30s, she was a "travel buddy" to an airline-employed friend. "For two years, at any point, I could just hop on a flight and go anywhere that airline flew. I would be sitting in my studio and think, 'I could be in Barcelona!' and just go."
Travel has always inspired her art, and on these impulse voyages, Whitney Barnes snapped thousands of photographs and made hundreds of sketches. This intense bout of traveling left her with a stockpile of raw material. "Now that I have a little bit of distance, it's like I am reliving the experiences, but by creating something that never existed."
After receiving her MFA from Hunter College in 2006, Whitney Barnes rented studio space in an industrial building in Gowanus. "There were always lots of other people around. I really loved all that camaraderie. It was really easy to get people in and out and see each other's art."
In August 2015, a pregnant Whitney Barnes and her husband left the city. "We realized life wasn't going to work in our tiny Williamsburg apartment," she says. So, they bought a 100-year-old house in Poughkeepsie.
Upon moving upstate, she found the solitude of her attic studio startling. "At first, I really missed having a studio with so many other artists. Then I suddenly got really into being alone," she says, adding, "When I was younger, I needed the input. Now, I come into studio and just work. I've been incredibly productive in last two years."
Whitney Barnes' pieces are compositional collages. Blending scenes from her travel photographs with everyday settings, she imbues the canvas with its own state of being, creating scenes that are fictive yet honest, familiar yet new.
Her recent series focuses on home, an exploration prompted by her new surroundings. The cover image, May Day/Domestic Bliss, is a scene of Whitney Barnes' dining room table. Atop it sits the vase from her wedding, filled with pink dogwoods from the tree in her backyard (a clincher for the house), all beneath a vast and pink (Danish) sky.
"It was the first painting I made where I didn't care if I was flirting with being sweet or sentimental," she says. "I don't know if it as a woman or what, but I felt this pressure, telling myself: 'I couldn't possibly just paint flowers. I am a serious artist. I paint serious things.' I had to give myself permission and tell myself, 'No, this is serious work."
Julia Whitney Barnes' artwork will be on display at Matteawan Gallery in Beacon, as part of the group exhibit "Super Natural," July 8 through August 21. Portfolio: Juliawhitneybarnes.com.