Julia Warr


I could never keep the paint inside the lines either—I mean as a kid. My pictures always came out kind of sloppy looking, and there would be splotches of Elmer’s glue squishing out from between two sheets I tried to stick together—ugh! No wonder I didn’t continue making art. I’ll make a guess and say that Julia Warr must have experienced something similar in her youth, but maybe she was possessed of a more obstinate or simply less self-conscious character. In any case, she did keep making art and, more important, has continued to see her paint seep out across the lines, apparently with equanimity. Or, more likely, with pleasure. This could even be a job description for artists. Wanted: someone who takes pleasure in sensations other people find icky, to get some of those others to notice them as pleasurable, too.

What’s different about Warr’s lines—different from the ones in the paintings I made as a kid, anyway—is that they don’t outline the forms in the images she paints. For the most part, they are nothing more or less than the lines of a grid, whose squares have each been filled in with a single candy color, as if they were large pixels of boiled sugar, to form some very approximate yet recognizable image. Formed with boxy gobs of slick acrylic, these are mostly simple variants on portraiture—in general, the simpler, the better—and seem to be derived from snapshots. Their generic titles are often self-explanatory, as in Girl with Cat (all works 2004), or else any further explanation of the image would be so banal that one would rather just keep silent. Still, I suppose one example of the latter is obligatory, so let’s just say that in Boys there are two of them; they seem to be posing on a staircase; and they’re wearing suits and ties.

While the imagery may be deliberately bland, the paintings aren’t. One reason is Warr’s peculiar color sense. It’s not just that she doesn’t use it with any kind of descriptive naturalism—that somehow one doesn’t read the yellow suits in Boys as representing suits that were really yellow but rather as a yellow representation of suits that were probably quite some other color. It’s more that the relations among the hues within the painting can seem so exacerbated. In Red Delilah, the various reds that make up the background as well as parts of a girl’s clothing seem determined to devour each other—and her.

There is something determinedly blank about Warr’s pictures—just as blank as the faces within them, their mouths and eyes (where indicated at all) reduced to dots and dashes in some impenetrable Morse code of expression. But rather than the blankness of unfeeling, it’s that of a feeling that simmers patiently under a look of pretended innocence, determined to give nothing away. The effect is sinister: The paintings are waiting to find your spot, and for some reason you can’t help wanting the wait to be over—to let your vulnerability be exposed.

Barry Schwabsky