OXIDANT | ENGINE : Interview with Julia Haw

“The Greatest of Gardens”: Imagination and Artistic Mobility, an Interview with Julia Haw

Julia Haw (b. 1982, Flint, MI) attended Western Michigan University with a concentration in painting and is recognized for creating bold, memory-staining paintings. She addresses personal issues and immediate Western norms, as well as particular global influences, utilizing political and historical realities, social interactions and humor.  Haw additionally examines overt topics such as feminism, ageism, intimacy, control and death by honing in on the seemingly mundane aspects or objects in a culture that are laced with undertones of those political and social themes, such as a Kleenex box or air conditioner.  Oil paint on cotton or linen is her mainstay medium, and she works in a forthright honest manner, in order to achieve direct empathetic coverage. Haw has achieved considerable viewer pause by way of highly dedicated work habits, specific color use, authenticity, and by balancing tense subject matter with humor. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held in Chicago and Cambodia.  

Julia and I grew up less than thirty miles apart in Michigan’s Genesee County. I became familiar with her

work in 2013 when, strangely enough, my mother sent me a link to her work her mother had posted on Facebook (our mothers taught at the same elementary school). Her paintings held a familiar newness for me. I recognized the physical and psychological landscapes of her paintings. They were reminiscent of a place that I’d felt I’d known once, too. I love the dark undertones present across her aesthetic and the sharp, subversive melancholia makes me feel, as a viewer, like I linger in some strange, somber paradoxical state of anti-sadness. Her pieces and images move in a way I’m always looking for language to move in. I’d been an admirer of her work for a few years and when we started Oxidant|Engine I immediately thought of her for a featured artist. Luckily for us, and for you reader, she agreed. The following correspondence took place between Brooklyn, New York and Charleston, South Carolina through the late spring and summer of 2018.  

 

To see more of Julia’s work, go to http://www.juliahaw.com/

Brandon Rushton: You’ve recently noted two major shifts in your artistic life that, as you’ve explained, have had reverberations in your personal life as well. The first being the decision to refrain from smoothing out the brushstrokes in your recent paintings and, the second, to stop calling yourself a “full time artist”. Can you talk about what led you to those decisions and how those choices have worked in tandem to point you in new directions as both an artist and human?  

 

Julia Haw: I have twinges of OCD behavior in the sense that I like to deep clean and reach the dark corners of areas.  Then, once all areas are clean, I must arrange objects just so.  If there is a vase and it’s .5 centimeters to the “wrong” side of something I will move it, stand back, look at it and make sure it’s correct.  This neurosis also translates into my paintings.  There is something terribly satiating about smoothing out a brushstroke.  I could liken it to my makeup routine as well.  It’s gotten to the point where I am perfecting every corner of my face. But as I age, I realize in this over-correction of painting I am losing something intrinsically fascinating to the process. I am losing the connection to painting itself.  This may sound strange, but I didn’t want to smooth out the brushstrokes.  I had to do it.  Sometimes it pained me because I knew I didn’t have the courage to leave in the unabashed, bold, emotive, energetic strokes. I would swipe it perfect and there lay, in one painting, many mini-deaths.  I know this may sound extreme to some.  I also know some viewers will scarcely notice a difference in my style, as it’s still tight in many ways.  But what I’m currently interested in is the play between realism and the painterly. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and don’t need to prove anything. (I never did.) I have never considered myself a realist.  I just didn’t identify with that title that so many gave me, yet I was painting realistically.  There was a deep dichotomy residing in my spirit.  Now, to leave those painterly aspects in is a total re-learning process.  It’s a psychological exercise in restraint.  I put the stroke of color in, and my knee jerk reaction is to grab my Kolinsky Sable brush and smooth it out, yet I pull back, sit with it, breathe and then move on.   I realize perfection does not matter in painting.  It’s irrelevant 99 percent of the time, unless it’s integral to a works’ message. But painting is life and life is painting.  All acts are on the same plane.  Sweeping a kitchen is just as meditative and beautiful as painting.  There will be a line of dust left on the floor from the pan.  This dust may just be swept into a small cloud, just as the brushstrokes may be left in, just as there are stretches of days now I reveal my undone face to the world.  

With regard to calling myself a full-time artist: when I was fired from my position managing a multi-million dollar art collection in Chicago at 30 years old, I cried the whole train ride home, dusted myself off, went on unemployment for a time, then learned to hustle.  I can easily go back to being a full-time artist. I’ve done it for six years via methods of investors, collectors, commissions and a few freelance intensive painting gigs. That is not the point here. The point is I began to conflate my self worth with sales. I would sell a painting, be super puffed up and high from it, and when there wasn’t a sale and my bank account dried up, my spirit would plummet.  I realized I was acting from a point of ego as I carried myself through the art openings here in Chelsea, NY.  “And what do you do for a living?,” they’d ask. “I’m a full-time artist.” 

Oh really? To what end and why?  It’s difficult, particularly as a still very much

“emerging” artist (even though I am decently established), to sell works regularly. 

My works are going for decent price points: $2500-$22,000, with most works sold

The Fear of Russell Joslin  2010  25x21.5in.  Oil on Canvas

in the $2500-$5000 range.  With the exception of some expensive outlier paintings, I sell more on the lower range due to the fact that I am not currently selling to “blue chip collectors,” rather I’m selling to the everyday man and woman, many of which are first time buyers who have been moved by a work.  I take great pride in this.  Of course I would like the esteemed Rubell’s to scoop up ten works today and send me off with the Oscar Murillos and Ali Zuckermans of the art world!  This is not to say these artists haven’t worked their assess off, but it is to say collectors with such high profiles make entire careers through their thoughtful eyes, deep pockets and vast connections.  But I digress.  The point is, my quality of life was suffering and I couldn’t take the highs and lows any longer.  I can’t paint well when I’m stressed by an unstable income.  I don’t buy into the notion of being a “starving artist.” I thrive with organic foods and seeds, and a nice gym membership to keep my body healthy.  I thrive when I can replenish my art supplies at any moment and travel to Southeast Asia for a few months a year.  The only difference between me, and a large percentage of artists experiencing the same thing, is that I went on YouTube and blasted myself about it.  I wanted to talk about my struggles as well as the level my ego had been operating on.  I always know I was right to follow my intuition when others respond passionately.  As with art, whether viewers agree with my message or not is irrelevant. That video in which I discussed no longer calling myself a full time artist amassed nearly 900 views in three weeks.   Messages, phone calls, and emails started pouring in immediately and the support and human connection I felt was moving.  Many of the messages were from fellow artists sharing my sentiments. “I feel the same way and have for some time. You are not alone!”  Others, however, misconstrued my message and thought I’d given up art altogether, though I clearly stated I’d never give up painting. (How could I??) Another person wrote and was saddened he could no longer tell people I was a “full time artist.” So what?  American values are not in the spiritually correct place.  We place extreme pressure on ourselves from a young age, placing high importance on how one makes their money, using it as a marker to define our self and true success. Still another friend wrote me and said “investors, future gallerists, are going to want to see deep commitment on your part to mitigate risk on theirs.” I pride myself on being authentic and I’d like to think anyone who invests in me or works with me now or in the future won’t blink an eye at the fact I’ve created a multi-source stream of income rather than suffering just for my ego, just to say “I’m a full time artist.”  I’m deeply committed for a lifetime, and this makes me a full time artist.  I just don’t make all my money with my art right now.  Maybe I will tomorrow or in the future again.  Big deal. 

 

BR: I love the way you emphasize that your paintings are bought by everyday men and women, many who are first time buyers who’ve connected with your art. In line with that, you insist, “sweeping a kitchen is just as meditative and beautiful as painting.” Since you also grew up in Genesee County, a wild and weird little intersection of the rural-rural, rural-suburbia, and the center of automobile production and industry, how did growing up where you did and, among the people you did, shape your thoughts about “work”? How has that contributed (if it has) to the way you conceptualize your own artistic philosophy? While I’m sure you never complain about selling a painting to a blue chip collector, I can only imagine the satisfaction you get when people coming from a similar place as you have, a region of laborers, buy your paintings.  

 

JH: I come from a middle class, hardworking, loyal family.  My mother was a fourth grade teacher in Clio, a neighboring city, and my father worked for Consumer’s Energy. When my father wasn’t working his 9-5 he was out in the fields bailing hay or in the gardens planting vegetables. It was the era of traditional jobs and both my mother and father shaped my thoughts around money.  I always felt provided for.  I never wanted for anything and those things I thought I wanted were really only superficial desires: Cable television, a Nintendo, more Legos, etc.  Further, this was before the full boom of the internet and cellular phones. Using our rotary dial telephone was the only way to communicate with the outside world.  Due to these factors, I realize I was cultivating from a young age the greatest of gardens: imagination.  These metaphorical seeds were sewn through collecting rocks, challenging myself through drawing, building forts in the lilac bushes, and talking to the cats.  I’ve also been instilled with a fastidious nature and this translates to my work today.  It can be traced back to even the minutest of details, such as the way my mother cared for her fingernails.  There were never chipped and were immaculately done.  And my father took care to sweep the kitchen every day without fail. Both had structured schedules with an early rise to the day.  My father would say to me upon sleeping until 11:00AM: “Half the day is over!!”  With this came the development of massive amounts of guilt in my adult years, when I don’t honor my work through a structured ethic.  The biggest difference now is that I haven’t worked a 9-5 in six years and I’m not sure I could ever do that again.  Conventionalism has, in a sense, become outdated.   

I do take pride in selling my works to those in the Midwest where I was raised because it means something. Art is not the first item on the list of needs and most often it isn’t on that list at all.  The Midwest is still coming from a psychological stance of a hard-working, middle-income, blue-collar, farming aesthetic. Further, the weird or non-realistic art is often misunderstood and discarded.   When I sell a work to buyers in the region I’m from, it means they really believe in the work, which to me stands as true collecting.  Of course I want high profile and non-profile collectors alike, but there’s something deeply satisfying about someone just really needing to live with a particular work of art, regardless of namesake or stature.  For me it’s the highest authenticity.  

 

“Wild and weird” is a good way of describing Davison, a city resting on the fringes of Flint.  When I graduated the population was only resting around 5,629 and has been steadily declining since.  Davison was for the most part very homogenous.  I think parts

The Fear of Rob Lee or The Suburban Wake 

2011  21x24.75in.  Oil on Canvas, Paper

of me were bored with that suburbia and I acted subversively.  I made art and wrote poetry and stole things from the mall.  There is something inherently dark, romantic and slightly depressing about rural suburbia, all elements that exist in my work today. 

BR: That’s fantastic. Inherently dark and romantic is a perfect description of your work. I have to admit, in the best way, your paintings often scare the hell out of me. I feel like I’ve been in them. I know the living rooms, I recognize the wallpaper, the furniture looks like furniture I’ve napped on, and the end tables look like end tables I’ve set my drinks on. I’m thinking specifically here of “The Fear of Rob Lee or the Suburban Wake” (but, really, any of the paintings from your fear series). The more time I spend with your paintings the more I realize I’ve worn the same faces as the people in them; I’ve sat or slouched in similar positions. At what point did spatial design and the postures and positions taken up within those spaces become influencing factors in your paintings? In your paintings the wallpaper and furniture is as emotionally evocative as the facial expressions and postures of the people you paint. Can you talk about that juxtaposition a bit, that relationship between the animate and inanimate and the energies they bring to your work?

JH: In 2008 I started repeating objects in my painting backgrounds first as a design element, and then as a personal meditation.  I continued to explore that repetition for the next five years.  I also utilized awkward spatial design as well as odd figurative postures during that time, as they contained more intrigue for me.  For example, in “Fear of Russell Joslin” his arm is cutting diagonally across a flat surface awkwardly

while Luna moths repeat behind him.   The objects in the background aren’t arbitrary - they have meanings, as I was further fascinated by Victorian culture during those years.  Objects like flowers held hidden meanings.  For example you’d never give your friend a red rose, which clearly symbolizes love, rather you’d give them a yellow rose.  In the Fear Series I utilized loaded symbols to represent the subject’s fear.  In Russell’s case, being a genius photographer, he was always afraid of losing his eyesight.  The Luna moth, which largely operates under a sheath of night and

Tear Fabric  2014  30x40in.  Oil on Canvas

Monk Selfie  2017  18x24n.  Oil on Canvas

Four To Six  2018 12x16in. 

Oil on Arches 100% Cotton Oil Paper

darkness acts as a representation of his fears.  In “The Fear of Rob Lee” I placed the mystical scarab beetle on the wall behind him, as scarabs historically represent resurrection and transformation, something Rob was going through immensely during that dark period.  

As I developed my style I began to feel I was too reliant on these “decorative” patterns, and prompted emotionally by the death of a close friend, I let go of them in the summer of 2013, keeping the main focus of either the person or the object I was painting.  In doing so, I drastically reduced hindering background noise. “Tear Fabric,” painted in 2014 is a great example of this clarity.  It is a large painting of a Kleenex box adorned with a frilly cover surrounded only by soft brown hues in the background.  This object is personified and can be likened to a bride on her wedding day in all her glory.  The objects we choose to be in our lives hold a certain molecular energy that the maker, potential past owners and current owner imbue it with.  These objects are revealing about our psyches, desires and fears.  With “Tear Fabric” the questions are posed: Why are we so uncomfortable with any lack of control that we would go so far as to decorate a Kleenex box with a garish lacy doily? Why can we not stand the object as it is? For many there is something deeply unsettling with the mundane or simply functional. Kleenex is used for blowing our noses, picking up gross objects, and wiping away tears. They are connected with disease, dirt and emotions. We feel the need to control all aspects of our environment to give ourselves a semblance of having control in our lives.  My desire to strip away everything took over me and currently I maintain a style that is clear, focused and meditative in a singular way.  After my series Same Same But Different which required context, I have now returned to a dialed in, cut and dry style that is further elevated from what I was attempting in 2015.  My aim with this reduction in distractions is to connect more succinctly and coherently with the viewer, even if there are still questions.  I mean, I’d hope there are still more questions. 

 

BR: Speaking of Same Same But Different, in a recent article with the Phnom Penh Post you talk about art-making across cultures and the delicate task of ensuring that your work doesn’t come across as appropriative or exploitative. Can you talk about your artistic process and how it changed (or didn’t) as you centered yourself as an outsider in Cambodia?

 

JH: There is a phrase that runs rampant in Cambodia and Southeast Asia and it pops up quite often in particular circumstances, and you’ll know it when it happens.  Utilizing this local phrase “Same Same But Different” as the title for my series, I examined the similarities and differences between Southeast Asian and Western cultures, utilizing political and historical realities, social interactions and humor.  I did this by fully integrating myself into the Cambodian culture staying there alone for three months and volunteering with locals at Colors of Cambodia (an NGO offering free art education to all Khmer children).  This was a new artistic process for me as even though I’d taken extended trips into Australia and the US I hadn’t challenged myself in thoroughly examining a foreign culture and translating that through my Westernized eyes.  My artistic process changed in the wake of feeling extremely humbled.  Once cannot simply observe a culture and translate it to paper without thinking of the possible consequences of being scorned, analyzed or judged by that local culture, if the work is done incoherently, obtrusively or with callous abrasion.  I really listened in order to thoroughly understand the context in which Khmers are currently living, via the recent disastrous war as well as the reconstruction over the last few decades.  The Cambodian culture needs to be understood via its history and politics, and in remaining quiet, graceful and humble in interactions with the locals and surrounding environment.  I came to understand that I was in their territory and even though I was volunteering as a teacher, they are my teachers.  I consider Cambodia to be my greatest teacher to date, in that it has centered me more than most meditative practices.  I focused delicately on politics (as it’s not safe or good to speak of politics in Cambodia let alone paint about them), the richness of color and Buddhist religion, and social aspects very unique to Cambodia such as skin bleaching and limbs blown off by underground ordinances. 

 

BR: You’re quoted in that article as saying Same Same But Different is “the strongest body of work I’ve made.” How did that series change things for you? In what ways did it further evolve the “dialed in, cut and dry style” that you were attempting earlier? In addition to that, how did that series extend and add to themes present in earlier work-- pop culture, energy-laced minutia, and female empowerment?

 

JH: The series changed for me the perception of my own environment.  The parallels are rampant between cultures when you really get into the politics, humor and social aspects.  Among those links are simply being human, error, love and death.  Now that I’m back in New York I see the humor in bodega posters, the richness of our immigrant culture, and vast themes of emotional displacement, not dissimilar to all that I observed in Cambodia. I can’t say that my painting itself changed dramatically aside of the fact that I needed

background context for this series and I know it increased my artistic hand even further.  The country dramatically transformed me however.  Through the depths of local kindness, laughter, and the utter humility the Khmer people embody, I shrank in my ego.  I felt

acceptance and warmth.  I felt home.   This furthered my “dialed in” style, as when learning great lessons of humanity from a third world country, unimportant shit tends to fall away. There is a decent amount of pop culture in Cambodia, but it tends to be stifled by the

government.  The young locals are growing increasingly more fashionable and there are young icons who quietly protest this modesty by dressing more provocatively and express themselves artistically with music and art.  To understand how grand these statements are,

is to understand what occurred during the war in the 1970’s. The Khmer Rouge army took over the country, drove the masses out of the city and into the countryside, and brutally murdered anyone who was considered educated or artistic.  Anyone who wore glasses or

taught or painted or made music was executed.  1/3 of the population were tortured, executed and thrown into mass graves.  The war only ended in 1979, thus 2/3 of the Cambodian population is under 30 years old.  The country is still filled with remnants

of this war - 6 to 8 million unexploded ordinances are still said to be buried in the soil, and yes, the Khmer Rouge still exist.  Pop culture is a defiant statement in the wake of this dark war.  Parents continue to subdue their children out of fear of their safety, as they lived through the devastation of seeing their family members murdered, at times simply due to dress code.  All of these darknesses are filtered through a young, strong, vibrant culture and translated into defiance.  Examples in my series are “Cambodian Smile,” a poster exuding a trend of the popular tooth crystal also referred to as a Skyce, and “Monk Selfie,” which is self explanatory. (Most monks now carry cell phones!)  “Bokator Twins,” the feature piece in SSBD is the greatest example I’ve ever painted of female empowerment.  For this particular piece I traveled to a remote temple in the Cambodian jungle with my twin friends Phany and Sophanin, who were dressed by a friend in traditional Bokator clothing.  Bokator is one of the oldest fighting systems in Cambodia, comprised of 8000-10000 techniques in the unarmed portion alone. We held a two-hour photo shoot for the source photo and I believe this piece to be the most weighted work because it highlights international feminism.  There are extremely few women (a handful) who train in Bokator and the twins are moving ahead

steadily, already training at the third level. Women especially feel the oppressive nature of the Cambodian government and are not treated with the same levels of respect as men.  While this exists in the United States it’s much more apparent there.  Particularly women artists (which is a double whammy) feel this silencing.  Phany and Sophanin are artists who resort to using very subtle implications in the work to release their repression.  Their parents, especially their father, do not know they are currently in Bokator training and also only agreed to “let them be artists” if they graduated with accounting degrees.

 

BR: Since being back in New York you say the parallels between the cultures of Cambodia and the U.S. have become more apparent, pointing specifically to the richness of immigrant culture and vast themes of emotional displacement. I’m sure you don’t want to spill too much on it, but can you talk a bit about how Same Same But Different, the immersion that series required and the cultural parallels it revealed, is responsible for your turn toward your new series in progress, American Displacement? Can you give readers a sense of what the new series is after? How does your vision for the new series build on and break from the work that has come before it?

 

JH: I hold a reverence for Khmers and the culture surrounding Cambodia in part due to my own lifelong feeling of displacement.  Early in my life, this facet was germinated, as before I even made it to middle or high school I was an outlier living on a farm situated along a dirt road.  I hated shopping, wore hideously bright neon soccer shorts 99% percent of the time and my closest friends were cats and trees. In high school, where stereotypes can reach blasphemous Hollywood standards of extremes, I wasn’t a full-blown jock or outrageously popular, and conversely I was never a total nerd, even with acne and braces. I existed somewhere on the fringes of all of these groups: band geek, athlete, cool kid, artist….. And while I really identified with nature growing up, I longed deeply to be living in the biggest city in the world. Distinct memories that furthered a dissonant chasm in myself were: 1. The beginnings of a self-sense of lack of worth.  This started with a specific memory in 2nd grade when a teacher let the class choose who deserved an award, me or another girl, of which they chose her.  I decided in that moment something made me unworthy.  2. My two best friends in high school pulled me aside in the locker room, told me they no longer liked me, and unfriended me.  3. I was the victim of a deeply scarring sexual assault after high school graduation.                  

Of course on top of all the above and many, many more in-between shaping memories, my emotional releases became poetry and artistic creation (aside of acting out by shoplifting and skipping school). These outlets were not only healing for me, they also garnered me positive attention.  As an adult I consider all of these memories critical for the work I make now.  As for current themes of displacement in my life, I am certainly considered part of a very low-income class set.  I make just enough money to make ends meet. I am an outlier as a woman who doesn’t desire marriage or children (of which I understand all is subject to change yada yada…) Further and broader, since the election of Trump I haven’t felt the same sense of kinship with my country, and even though this could be considered an outlier position, I do feel unified with millions of others who identify.  

 

In some senses, at 36 I am now more comfortable being the outlier.  I get something

Bokator Twins  2017  36x48in. 

Oil on Hand Stretched Cotton Canvas

from it.  So in that sense, being in Cambodia feels like a home. Being in Brooklyn while my whole family is in the midwest feels right to me.  I carved my niche and made my unique path work for me.  For the execution of “Same Same But Different” immersion was required due to my lack of initial unfamiliarity of ingrained cultural facets of Cambodia.  However, due to my lifelong immersion here in the United States, it actually can be more difficult than it was in a foreign country, to see outlying objects, people and themes.  It is only now, two pieces into the series, that I am really starting to pull very meaningful and relevant themes, or understand how my earlier picks may or may not work for this series. This can be likened to an undetectable accent in your voice.  You’ve been speaking a certain way your whole life and only until you pay attention and truly hear, will you then pick up on the nuances of inflection and intonation.   

 

“American Displacement” builds on my previous works contending with themes such as immigration, isolation, feminism, and the deep need for a sense of control due to fear, all from my personal vantage as an outlier. However, it further breaks from earlier content in that I’ve never brought all of themes together in an intimate cohesion.  My artistic voice is carved, clear and bolder than ever, and I’ve come in to my specific voice (a really good feeling.)  The series is not just a survey of those people, objects and facets of our culture that are marginalized or displaced.  It is a way of honoring, highlighting, and giving due and proper stage.  Granted some in my audience may not feel a piss bottle deserves a stage, but there is a deeper conversation about time and money and making ends meet in order to reach this carrot dangle of a painted American dream. These unique threads of existence really come together to create a culturally rich fabric in our country.  Homogenization is the death of creativity.  

 

BR: Displacement is a complicated term in America because of the political and cultural implications it carries—we have a long history as a country of removal and relocation; of reneging on treaties and rights; and, now, of the intentional displacement of immigrant families, separating parent from child. Your work has always carried a political punch, but how does the timeliness of the title of this new series promise to carry a different kind of weight and power?   

JH: This theme of displacement couldn’t be more poignant currently. It’s actually always been poignant, but in many senses even before the past half century its been deeply suppressed.  Voices are becoming louder. Things are not okay and they will never be okay again.  I’m talking about racism, homophobia, misogyny, hatred and fear of immigrants.  It runs deep…. really deep in our country.  #metoo #whyididntreport #takeaknee #blacklivesmatter #loveislove #keepfamiliestogether … Many might say “I can’t believe we’re still here, doing things like this! How barbaric!”  But it makes sense.  We’re creatures filled with error.  Our country is still young and the roots are dark, egotistical and twisted. Humans are a young species. People get possessive due to fear that something will be taken away from our selves. “American Displacement” tackles many of these themes from the vantage of some digestible images and some not so digestible.  In my practice I have striven and continue to strive toward making work that ignites conversation after the viewer is drawn in via a palatable doorway of

Piss Bottle  2018 24x30in.  Oil on Canvas

uniqueness, color choice, and strong execution.  By this I just mean that it’s important to invite the viewer in softly and relatively comfortably so they feel a curiosity and safe place to ask questions.  It’s certainly not my intention to make bigots or homophobes feel comfortable per se, but I think it’s important to hold a mirror up for internal reflection. I’m interested in painting conversation starters, not to make work that is so in your face that it ends the conversation before it could even begin.   

 

BR: Obviously, there is a drastic difference between the terms displacement and mobility. You’ve been a mobile artist, at least in the sense that you came up in the Chicago art scene and have now made the jump to New York; you’ve traveled to Cambodia etc. Can you talk a little bit about that journey? What did Chicago mean to the Julia Haw of the past? What does New York mean for the Julia Haw of the future? How has that mobility enriched your art and made you more cognizant of the larger, global human condition?  

 

I feel as though my young Cambodian friend Vuthy put it best when he asked, “New York is a country, right?”  The moment I entered New York as a young girl I was smitten.   I knew it was my home then.  The reason I travel so much is because I deeply fear complacency.  I fear waking up at 86 years old and having regrets.  I feel being insular, ethnocentric and lacking perspective.  This is why fear is my greatest teacher and motivator.  I believe New York is a microcosm of the larger, global human context and condition, but it’s still vastly important to travel the world.  

Chicago for me was essential.  In 2008, I was a week away from signing a lease in New York, but certain twists of fate and following my intuition led me across the lake to Chicago where I earned an invaluable education working for artists. I stayed there for 9 years and was

brought into a fold of deeply unique artisans and characters I’ll remain in touch with forever.  I showed in galleries, non-galleries, pop-up spaces and museums and really, it deepened my art practice.  I felt much more ready to move to New York than had I just leapt in from

Kalamazoo.  I am unsure of what New York means for the Julia Haw of the future and I’m OK with that.  I’m only two years into living in Brooklyn and I am seeing New York isn’t for the faint of heart.  You can’t come in like a cowboy and wrangle her up.  She is a fucking

BEAST.  She is a mountain with no peak!  She is culturally and topically rich and boasts every race, creed, color and culture imaginable in this world, as well as shares glimpses of blinding glittering diamonds and spotless Gucci shoes and all the 5th avenue luxuries.  Then she will spit you onto the piss stained pavement naked and crying.  New York for me is the ultimate mountain to climb and thankfully I’ll never reach the top. There’s still so much to learn!  New York for me is the greatest platform for eyes on my work and I look forward to wrangling her for but a few moments.

NYC Landlords  2018  30x40in.  Oil on Canvas