When you look at Julia Einstein’s recent floral still lifes, you’ll notice the brilliant (or muted) colors, the loose arrangement of flowers, the water level in the glass vase, the reflection of the vase on the surface where it sits. What you won’t see—unless you know to look for it—is the backdrop, which is hidden in plain sight.
Einstein calls this series of paintings her “window portraits,” and it is a concept she has developed over time. “I have always worked from life; I am an artist who needs to be looking at what I’m painting,” Einstein says. Early in her career, she painted interior scenes of her home, drawn to the light coming in from a window or from a room with its door ajar viewed down a hallway. “I became attracted to the window in my scene. My compositions got closer and closer to the window until I completely zoomed in and the only remnant is the line of the windowsill. It’s abstracted and paired down, but in my mind my canvas is a window frame and the flowers go right up to the edge.”
Einstein arranges her still lifes in the windows of her apartment in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, or in the Maine cottage she rents for a couple of weeks in the summer on Southport Island. “I’ll set my bouquet up and I will wait to see what kind of shadow happens at what time of day,” she says, adding that she deliberately creates minimalist, airy arrangements instead of cramming the vase with blooms. “I choose the ones with leggy stems, which gives me the chance to have these between spaces—and that creates the dynamic composition.”
For Einstein, it’s important to have a connection to the source of her floral subjects. In North Carolina, she selects flowers from Raleigh City Farm, where she is the artist-in-residence, and she schedules her visits to Maine to catch the lupine in bloom. “I know what happens to flowers—I have maybe a day or two before they get wilt-y,” she says, which means she has to be organized about her process. “I’ve looked and sketched the flowers, I’ve made composition studies of the light, then I start to apply paint, and at this point it becomes a painting, my focus is on the easel.”
An oil painter, Einstein is “inspired by the medium itself—the act of mixing the color and filling a brush with paint to lay across the canvas is when I can say, ‘ooh, that’s perfect.’ And there’s the process of interacting with that edge, from one shape to another—the background against the top of the water in the vase. I then ask, ‘does that work? Do I make it cooler, or warmer?’ That’s the fun part.”
Like many artists I’ve interviewed for this project, Einstein will walk away from a painting after a while and return to it later. “I can close the door to my studio and hope that when I walk in there the next day it’s like, ‘Oh, I did it!’ That surprise to myself is what I’m after.”
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