Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Julia Chesbrough

Julia Chesbrough opens the door to a light-filled apartment on a semi-sunny Saturday. She unwraps a pack of petite canvases and smiles. She’s going to teach me how to paint The Ladies.

“The Ladies” is Julia’s ongoing series of silhouettes, painted with the curves and swerves of gloriously imperfect female forms, in black gouache on stark white canvas. Her minimalist paintings play with how this delightfully, notoriously complex form can be revealed in just a few lines. The work has become a regular part of Julia’s artistic practice, which also occasionally includes the collages and poetry that hang on her walls.

By day, Julia is a marketing graphic designer at Hinge. Before that, however, when she graduated college with a psychology degree, she worked as a behavioral health technician for autistic children. Ultimately realizing she’d rather pursue a more artistic field, she moved to New York and did a graphic design bootcamp. After completing the course and taking on short-term clients, she was hired at Hinge a few months later. There, she’s been working in UX Design, which she feels is a happy marriage of her art and psychology experiences.

We start with our canvases, pencils, slim paintbrushes, and a tiny dish of water at a sleek white high-top table in her living room. It occurs to me now that the work we’re doing--all slim and petite and elevated and taking up little space--is perhaps the perfect practice for a New York apartment.

Julia adds a small dollop of gouache to a silver tin for me and for herself--a little bit goes a long way, she says. She draws an elegantly sweeping L shape on the canvas, an inwardly curving line for the back that evolves into an outwardly rounded line for the bottom, and invites me to do the same. I make an attempt that results in a much more lumpen, less refined shape only slightly improved after manic erasing jags, but Julia is kind and patient and waits for me. Soon we move onto the gouache, which we’ll use to outline the pencil on the canvas. Julia’s elegant lines emerge yet do my lumpen attempts. It occurs to me that I am very definitely a photographer, but I enjoy painting and watching Julia paint. It’s a meditative experience, watching the black lines and their feminine shapes emerge on the canvas.

With paintbrushes poised, we talk about dating and marriage and the modern and antiquated versions of both. I’m more honest than I would be with a total stranger. I wonder if this is regularly what happens to people when they paint, that what spills from their lips is more unedited because their brains and hands are otherwise occupied, or if Julia’s warmth and kindness just makes for a comfortable space to share. Julia finishes her Lady and embarks on another, circular canvas piece.

Eventually, the gouache dries. Julia moves our canvases to her fire escape, spraying them with lasting sealant. And voila! The Ladies are done.

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