Judy Southerland

Bio: Word and Image

The why:

I began making images to build back weight and meaning into the body of hollowed out, corrupted words. I continue to make images because material making can manifest experience in ways that transcend language.


Point of view: 

I can see more if I am neither for nor against any method or material. The use of abstraction or representation depends on the nature of the questions being adressed. My interests include jumping the gap between a geometric formalism and a highly descriptive, narrative visual vernacular.  Moving between these two often feels like looking at the stars, then down at my feet. That back and forth has not changed-- it has in fact been a quest, a journey of commitment looking for my heart’s desire.


And what does the heart desire?

As a southerner born in 1944, I grew up in a word culture and somewhere along the line realized words had suffered a loss. You couldn’t trust them. What was said in church didn’t translate into everyday life. Clashes between black and white, tradition and new, rules and freedom, all called into question those stories and games used in preparing us to go out, survive, and with some luck, thrive. 


Stuff beckons.

Traditional art materials are carefully crafted and very beautiful. I love good paint and fabric, pigment loaded colors and the right tool. But an artist’s job is to get to the heart of the matter, and whole hearts include the unworthy. To achieve this may require not only conventional materials but the left behind and never considered. Technique includes an acknowledgement of skills brought to the table before art education. I could sew, cook, draw, work wood a bit and build things. I swam competitively and played softball for years. I knew what killing was (fishing, and my mother’s chickens) and in time, learned the value of patience and the tender touch. Now after a practice of nearly forty years I have the moves I need, and choose my expressive approach according to the needs of the project. My long rummage through the trunk of visual history, along with extended play with materials, has offered up a steady way to counter sly corruption in our stories and games.


Abstraction and Usefulness:

As an adolescent I made secret drawings and making them seemed a way back into the word which had lost weight and meaning. On TV, astronomer Carl Sagan said "There are three great disciplines worth a lifetime of study; science, art and religion. Art? The people I grew up with didn't speak of art and it was not a subject in school until my graduating year. I took a leap and majored in art education in college, did a few years of middle/high school teaching, did some traveling and looking, then got an MFA from American University in 1978. Afterwards, I felt a need to make highly detailed representational paintings and drawings from observation. This was my practice until a new quest emerged. I wanted to know the language of abstraction. My southern culture put a lot of value in usefulness. Representational painting could be narrative or celebrate status.  It could bring nature's beauty inside, or echo family photographs which opened up the old times. Modernist abstraction used concepts and a vocabulary I was unfamiliar with. Employing various strategies, I tried to wind my way forward and failed. Taking a cue from Philip Guston, who had been a visiting artist at AU, and using traditional Japanese apprentice training techniques I had read about, I took to drawing with brush and ink. Under a Japanese master, apprentices were told to sit and pull a single mark on paper until the move was mastered. This could take up to a year. A similar discipline became my practice, during which I also switched hands. In time, armed with my new found belief in risk, repetition, and the power and transparency of a single move, I began to make pictures again.

my . artist run website