May 6, 2015

The Invented World of Julie Armbruster

Art Notes

"Fake Whiskers" by Julie Armbruster

WILD-EYED: Threatening carousel animals, a crown-wearing pigeon and mustached men disguised as tree stumps are just a few of the unusual human-animal hybrids inhabiting the strange, illustrated world of Julie Armbruster. Currently on view at The Grit, “Fake Whiskers” exhibits a collection of painted panels, drawings and giclee prints by the Asheville, NC-based artist.

“The characters are kind of weirdos. They seem to be wrapped up in something and we just get a hint, as the viewer, of what they are up to,” says Armbruster. “The settings range from interiors to exteriors, but I am very fond of wood patterning, so I add that to most of my work. I lived in a house that was all dark wood paneling, so I think that may have sunk in.”

The exhibit “Fake Whiskers” takes its title from a panel of the same name in which a man has taped whiskers onto his gray mustache. He spectates from a wooden boardwalk overlooking a purple sea as a pair of yellow, feather-tailed and fang-toothed characters jump between the heads of giant blue creatures wearing scuba masks and authentic bristles. Nonsensical narratives such as this are indicative of the artist’s automatic-drawing approach; core elements are pulled from her imagination then unified through delicate outlining and a glossy coat of resin.

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"Band Practice" by Julie Armbruster

“My work is created through intuitive drawing. I sometimes start with a loose ink wash and pull the images out of the surface, and sometimes I just sketch until I make something that I like,” says Armbruster. “Then, I sketch some more and see if the drawings have a relationship and can work together. Once I have a solid sketch, I start with the background and fill in the characters, and finally the outlining.”

Armbruster’s personal favorite in the exhibit is a pair of large group portraits inspired by Magnetic Fields’ 1999 three-volume, aptly-titled concept album, 69 Love Songs. Each face in the crowd represents a separate track, and while a few, like “The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be,” “Papa was a Rodeo” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits,” are easy to spot, the majority leave the viewer busy in a bewildering matching game.

“Two years ago, I challenged myself to make a small watercolor drawing based on each of the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs,” says Armbruster. “After that, I wanted to have a painting that had all of the love songs together. It ended up taking two panels, but I did it! These two panels together are a group portrait of all 69 of the drawings. I can hear the songs when I look at the panel, and I love the idea of a painting that sings to me.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in art education from SUNY New Paltz and a master’s degree in painting from New York University, Armbruster joined Americorps, an endeavor that landed her in Asheville. Following her two-year service, she began displaying works in art shows around town and slowly built up to making it a full-time career. She is one of over two dozen artists operating out of the River Arts District’s Wedge Studios, a series of 100-year-old industrial buildings that have been converted into small businesses and working studios for painters, potters, filmmakers, textile artists and other creative types. 

A long-time vegetarian and devotee of The Grit Cookbook, Armbruster was encouraged to set up a show after meeting local artist Ruth Allen who currently has her own exhibit of animal paintings at ARTini’s Art Lounge through Sunday, May 17–at an exhibit in Knoxville, TN.

“Fake Whiskers” will remain on view at The Grit through Sunday, May 10.

DISEGNO: A new exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, “Lines of Inquiry: Renaissance and Baroque Drawings from the Ceseri Collection,” presents a dozen drawings that offer rare insight into the techniques and creative processes of European artists. Considered as both an intellectual and a practical activity, the art of design—or “disegno” in Italian—lined out a foundation through which painters could express their inner visions. Beth Fadeley, a doctoral candidate in art history at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, guest-curated the show with assistance from students in Associate Professor Shelley Zuraw’s class, “The Art of Drawing.” An opening reception will be held on Saturday, May 9 from 2–4 p.m., and the exhibit will remain on view through Sunday, Aug. 2.