IN THE STUDIO: Julie Speidel

From her studio on Vashon Island, Julie Speidel has developed an illustrious process of creating work on paper that recalls and expands upon her monolithic sculptures. Speidel’s art has often focused on distinct formal qualities, accenting opaque, organic shapes and intense fields of unwavering color. Her transition to two-dimensional work heightens the tension between the two, with stark compositions of floating forms suspended in elegant dialogue with each other. Finished works evoke ancient megalithic sites or radically abstracted human figures, but maintain a whimsical mystery, as though the shapes contain hidden, profound truths.

Julie Speidel, Errill, 2022, Hand rubbed oil on Japanese paper, 55 x 30 inches (framed dimensions: 61.75 x 36 x 2 inches)

Speidel has worked collaboratively with master printmaker John Overton for over six years, perfecting a process for her work on paper. Using a Japanese baren Speidel presses inked and oiled cut-out sculptural elements onto handmade Japanese paper, a distinctly different method from her early monoprints— which were passed through a press. The rubbed and pressed oil creates a rich, deep color on the delicate paper, reimagining the smooth, sturdy permanence of her sculptural work.

Cut-out components for work on paper

The work on paper is inherently procedural, drawing attention to the sculpted forms required to make the prints. The most recent cut-outs emphasize slow curves over jarring edges, oftentimes mimicking the smooth edges of a river rock or the silhouette of a distant hillside. Indeed, the marks made from the cut elements register as shadowy versions of Speidel’s metal sculptures, pulling her established visual language into the two-dimensional. Unlike her sculptures, the elements are able to coexist without fully touching, appearing as disembodied fragments of a cohesive image.

Julie Speidel, In The Studio

Speidel’s method for assembling and picking the elements is thorough and systematic. The unhurried cadence of finishing works becomes a calm, meditative experience for Speidel that manifests in the harmonious compositions.

Working on a composition

Artworks like “Taghmon” and “Errill” imagine different assemblages of similar components, highlighting the unique relationships between each shape.

Julie Speidel, Taghmon, 2022, Hand rubbed oil on Japanese paper, 38 x 26 inches (framed dimensions: 46.5 x 33.5 x 2 inches)

Contrastingly, “Dungarvan” foregrounds the juxtaposition of vivid colors over the soft, airy quality of the paper. Viewed from afar, the color fields appear as impenetrable, rich marks, but up close it reveals a complicated texture of residual grain from the cutouts, and gossamer fibers from the paper.

Julie Speidel, Dungarvan, 2021, Hand rubbed oil on Japanese paper, 35 x 26 inches (framed dimensions: 43.5 x 33.5 x 2 inches)

Though the final compositions align with the grand geometric abstraction of the mid 20th century, they also reference and deconstruct various cultural icons. “RBG V” is an homage to the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, memorializing her famous collars and gesturing at a sense of graceful poise.

Julie Speidel, RBG V, 2021, Hand rubbed oil on Japanese paper, 38 x 26 inches (framed dimensions: 46.5 x 33.5 x 2 inches)

Other works invoke the historic standing stones and megalithic sites of Ireland. Speidel wears her Irish heritage with pride, using the mesmerizing structures as a muse for her own explorations of form. Named after a site in southeastern Ireland, “Knockmahon” achieves a similar feeling of inexplicable awe as the ancient stones through its gentle stacking and interplay of primitive, elemental shapes.

Julie Speidel, Knockmahon, 2021, Hand rubbed oil on Japanese paper, 39 x 20 inches (framed dimensions: 46.5 x 27.5 x 2 inches)

Speidel’s work on paper both elevates an understanding of her sculpture and expands her palette into gratifyingly new territory. She activates the paper with the eye of a sculptor, ever aware of the illusionistic volume of any given form. The finished works indulge in this flatness while also pushing beyond it, illuminating the weight and gravitas of the surface.

Julie Speidel, In The Studio

Equipoise, Julie Speidel’s exhibition of new work, will be on display at Winston Wächter Fine Art Seattle from March 19 through April 30, 2022.

Click here to view more work by Julie Speidel