In “I Saw the Face of Hecate” at Bonfire Gallery, pop surrealist Juli Adams has created a world where you want to know more about the subjects she’s depicted.
The oil paintings and soft sculptures are instantly engrossing in a stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of way. Her vision is expertly executed; the work easily holds your gaze. You can’t look away.
In the title piece, a hunched woman with long, thin arms grips a skull in her left hand. Her face is partially obscured by raven hair and she’s surrounded by several other skulls. Her light eyes stare back at the viewer. Another piece, “From the Mists of the Hoh,” shows a standing animal with an anthropomorphic face. A necklace of skulls hangs around its neck as a fog is rising from below. While its body is a dark gray, white fur frames its knowing eyes. A temple-like structure sits atop its head and one paw holds a cane.
Adams said the show is about facing her deeply feminine journey into darkness where she found the treasures of the underworld. She described darkness as the things that we are uncomfortable with about ourselves and what we fear.
“The very vulnerable childlike parts of ourselves that behave in ways to protect us really turns into neurosis if it’s not attended to,” said Adams. “But if we turn towards those things and nurture ourselves and pay attention to them, that vulnerability is a source of our power and not our weakness.”
The juxtaposition of youth and darkness runs through the exhibit. In the gallery, mobiles and soft sculptures hang from the ceiling. Both are assembled from pieces of her life.
Mythology also helps frame the work. Hecate is a Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft and necromancy who is often shown holding two torches. Adams said Hecate was an obvious representation for the exhibition because all of her work has been centered around the concept of understanding our darkness as a source of empowerment.
Skulls are a recurring figure in her paintings. While they are often associated with the macabre, it’s the opposite for Adams; they don’t signify death. Instead, she sees bones as the beautiful structure within us all.
Adams says she has been fascinated by darkness since she was a child. She had recurring dreams that were interesting and sometimes scary. They were so vivid that she would lose a toy in a dream and wake up the next day looking for it. Those dreams had a major impact on her.
“I think that was the first thing that connected me to understanding that there is something bigger in a way outside of myself than just me. That there was another, other world happening,” said Adams. “It was almost like going to it rather than it happening. I wasn’t just dreaming. There was some other place that I was privy to.”
Adams grew up on Cougar Mountain and explored creatively from a young age. Her grandmother taught her how to sew; she’d make clothes for her Snoopy. She found inspiration everywhere; Adams recalls being fascinated with “The Scream” by Edvard Munch when she saw the famous painting in her fourth-grade music book.
“I love faces. I love how much information there is in the face,” said Adams. “When they’re just being themselves, how beautiful they are. I love painting that.”
Despite a love for art, it took some time before she fully embraced being an artist. She fell victim to two of the prevailing messages young artists often hear: You can’t do it and if you do, you have to be dead to succeed.
For some time, Adams tried to take a different path. She earned a degree from The Evergreen State College in Women’s Studies and while there she became fascinated with the work of Joseph Campbell. Later, she worked for a software company that created games for kids.
But then, despite the discouragement from her mother and an internal voice telling her she couldn’t, Adams began painting. Five works at a time, then five more. Soon, she had enough for a pop-up show. She first experimented with watercolors, then switched to oil. She took classes at Gage Academy – classes that changed her work almost overnight, bringing it from a cartoonish style to high realism.
She quieted the voices in her head and those around her, and instead prioritized her need to create. In 2004, she became a full-time artist. Soon after, the negative voices died down. Once her mother recognized her focus and drive, Adams says, she became her biggest cheerleader.
Today, Adams works in her home/studio. The space is reflective of the aesthetic of her work – skulls, of course, are a part of the décor. She placed a mobile similar to the ones in the show in a corner because there were too many squares in that area.
Gallery owner and artist Bill Gaylord is fascinated by the world Adams is exploring. Even before he finished hanging the show, people were knocking on the door of the gallery to see more of her work, drawn in by what they saw in the window. He considers her one of Seattle’s most noted pop surrealists and says he’s excited to show her work.
“There’s this myth and mystery to the work. And she has this story through her life that she’s been investigating. Her inner goddess,” said Gaylord. “I think everybody can find something in these paintings and sculptures.”
Gaylord is intentionally showing Adams’ work during Seattle Art Fair, a four-day event that’s brought local and international galleries to CenturyLink Field Event Center. Gaylord says he considers her work to be of the same caliber and hopes visitors to the fair will venture to his space as well.
The show also includes a video where visitors can listen to Adams talk more extensively about the theme of darkness. While some might find her work challenging, Adams is inviting the audience to see what she’s created through a different lens.
The works in “I Saw the Face of Hecate” have a dreamlike, surrealist quality. Her skill is deft, to be sure, but the work is also a metaphor for the power of ignoring self-doubt. Forging your own path and embracing your perspective can lead to a stunning discovery.
WHAT: “I Saw the Face of Hecate”
WHEN: Aug. 1 – Sept. 29
WHERE: Bonfire Gallery, 605 S. Main St., Seattle
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
Artist confronts White womanhood in gallery show
Double Exposure: Seattle Art Museum showcases Native artists and shines a critical light on the legacy of photographer Edward S. Curtis
Check out the full Aug. 1 - Aug. 7 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.