Artist Spotlight - Julia Westerbeke



By Moira Cue

I was browsing recently through a catalogue from the LA Art Show, which I have reviewed since it moved from the Santa Monica Barker Hanger to the downtown Los Angeles space two years ago. There was so much to see in person at this show that I wondered how many artists I had overlooked. I noticed in the back pages, where young graduate students who had participated in a side project room were featured, an intricate, abstract, black and white relief sculpture in paper with hand drawn details. The artist's name was Julia Westerbeke. I decided to do a little research on her. The more I saw, the more I liked what I saw.

Julia Westerbeke's 2009 installation with Clare Parry at the San Francisco de Young museum, The Deluge, was a visually stunning and innovative meditation on the complimentary and dichotomous world of our interiors; as in both living spaces we keep our bodies inside and the literal "insides" of our bodies, at the microbial level. In one environment--our homes--the goal is to eliminate bacteria and organic growth in pursuit of a sterile environment. At the cellular level, decorative, floral motifs are generated uncontrollably, with ravishing appetite.

Westerbeke's and Parry's work shows the type of stenciled wallpaper associated with William Morris literally overtaken by what appear to be icebergs of mold, corral ensconced salt reefs, or Japanese lamps sucked underwater by an octopus with tentacles of algae. It's an obvious play on the double meaning of the word "interior."

The microscopic, organic half of the exhibition clearly came from Westerbeke. Her oeuvre relies heavily on black and white, both in sculpture and drawing, with an intricacy and tenderness that reminded me of the "topologies" series of one of my former graduate advisors at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the widely acclaimed Anne Wilson. (Wilson's curriculum vitae includes selection in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and participation in museum exhibitions in London and Kanazawa, Japan).

Westerbeke has also exhibited recently (October 2010) at the Sam Francis Gallery in Santa Monica. As a relatively young artist--she received her MFA in 2009--Westerbeke is one to watch.

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