A Conversation with Julia J. Wolfe

Julia J. Wolfe is a multidisciplinary artist based in Rochester, NY. Her work has been exhibited nationally and published in Studio Visit Magazine and New American Paintings. Through painting, drawing, printmaking, knitting, sculpture, writing, and installation, her practice reflects upon themes of childhood and times of innocence, alongside the shared human experience of growth. 

Julia has been an artist-in-residence in Printmaking & Book Arts since September 2022. We recently sat down with her in the Book Arts Studio and chatted about her life, process, and time as a resident artist at Flower City Arts Center. 

Can you talk about your artistic background and training?

Of course! I’ve loved drawing since I was a kid. Growing up, people would tell me that I was “good at drawing,” in the sense that they’d recognize whatever object or person I was trying to render realistically. It wasn’t until I took a drawing class in college (with the great Hamlett Dobbins!) that I decided to major in art. I went to Rhodes College in Memphis, TN and studied with some really wonderful faculty: Ben Butler, Hamlett Dobbins, Erin Harmon, and Laurel Sucsy. They all challenged me to think about what I was making, in ways I didn’t realize could be applied to art (before that, I just wanted to make pretty pictures). At Rhodes, I got into abstract painting, which I wasn’t expecting. From there, I did a post-baccalaureate program at Brandeis University to continue my studio practice and eventually apply to graduate school. At Brandeis, I studied under Sonia Almeida, Graham Campbell, Sean Downey, and many others, all of whom pushed my practice and paintings even further. I moved to Iowa City in the summer of 2015 to get my M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing at the University of Iowa. While at Iowa, I took a variety of classes, from printmaking to scene design to papermaking to sculpture and more. Naturally, this guided me into the world of installation, which I’ve found to be the most exciting and challenging way to exhibit my work. I gotta mention some more amazing teachers real quick: Isabel Barbuzza, Andrew Casto, Terry Conrad, T.J. Dedeaux-Norris, Susan Chrysler White. There’s a lot more people, but I should probably leave it there for now.

What brought you to Rochester?

Well, if you know anything about how a medical student becomes a resident doctor (the next step of medical training), then you know how random the “match” process can feel. Essentially, an applicant ranks the institutions where they interviewed while the institutions also rank the applicants. My husband was in medical school at Iowa, he made his rank list, I made my rank list of the cities where he interviewed, and then he matched at URMC – so we moved here!

Can you describe your creative process?

I always have a few things ongoing: a sketchbook (usually more than one at a time), drawings and prints, several paintings, sculptural pieces, various lists, and something I call my “Whisper Journal.” The Whisper Journal is a list of words and phrases that I’ve heard and have felt compelled to write down, for whatever reason. I have a pocketbook dedicated to this, as well as a digital version in the Notes app on my phone. This is often where my titles come from, as well as some written pieces. The paintings often incorporate something from each of those modes of working, and I view the installations as being spatially encompassing versions of the paintings. 

Can you talk about the role of the sketchbook in your creative process?

For me, the sketchbook is where anything and everything can be recorded. I try to carry one with me wherever I go, just in case there’s something that I need to come back to later on. (People in the medical field often find it odd when I pull out my sketchbook to draw something quickly – usually a blind contour of the bar we’re in – but then they see it and are surprised to find that the quirky artist might be onto something!) It’s for capturing a moment, something a phone camera can’t do in the same way. Everyone takes pictures constantly, including myself, and then those photos just get lost in the sea of other random photos. The physicality of the sketchbook is important to me – it’s interactive and has a real presence when I flip through pages from eight years ago.

In a residency program that gives you access to very specialized equipment (letterpress, papermaking, bookbinding, etc.) what are some ways that you have been experimenting with new techniques and tools throughout your time at Flower City Arts Center?

I hadn’t tried letterpress until starting this residency, and it was the first technique I wanted to try. I took a class with Rachel Oatridge, “Digital Ink: 21st Century Letterpress”, which was so exciting. I have a bit of experience in graphic design and have always wanted to turn something digital into the physical process of printmaking. Now that the Center is getting a laser engraver, I’m hoping to make my own typeface that I can use for future letterpress prints. During grad school, I also did some papermaking and bookbinding, and it’s been refreshing to have facilities that allow me to bring those techniques back into my practice and experiment within them.

Did your original artistic goals change or evolve throughout the residency? If so, in what ways?

Yeah, I came into the year with nothing super concrete in mind. Typically, it’s during the process of making a body of work that I figure out what it’s doing and where it’s going. One day, I hope to publish a book, and I’d like to incorporate some of the work that I’ve made during this residency: handmade paper, screenprints, poems, paintings, drawings, images of sculptural/installation work, and letterpress prints. As far as what this book is about, I’m still figuring that out!

Are there any specific projects or artworks that you created during the residency that you’re particularly proud of or excited about?

There was a day in February when I thought it would be interesting to try letterpress on canvas and then make a painting with whatever came of that. So I printed onto a few different pieces of canvas (with many helpful tips from Megan), sewed up some holes made by the Vandercook (oops), stretched it, painted a bit, screen-printed onto part of it, painted some more, and ended up with a fine painting.

After your exhibition at Flower City Arts Center in September, what’s next?

I’ve got a show at the Mercer Gallery at MCC in October, and the opening reception is Thursday 10/5 at 5pm – there’s also an artist talk at 4pm the same day. Hopefully people will come see the installation! It’s titled “We Like to Take the Long Way.”

Get to Know Your Instructor: Jeremy Pinsonneault

Jeremy Pinsonneault is an instructor in the Photography and Digital Arts Department as well as an artist in residence in the Printmaking and Book Arts Department. Some of the classes Jeremy teaches in the Photography and Digital Arts Department are Intro to Illustrator, an advanced Illustrator Projects Workshop,  Intro to Photoshop, and Wild About WordPress. 

What is your favorite subject matter to cover in class?

  • I enjoy covering different processes that have the best return on time invested. Everything I teach in the photo department is digitally based.  Because of this, it’s good to be cognizant of how much time is being spent in front of a screen. My favorite lessons are where a new tool is introduced that automates things you would otherwise need to do manually. Learn enough of these and you’ll find that you’re spending less and less time tied to a machine and more time enjoying the real world.

How long have you been an instructor here?

  • It’s going to be one year in August and I’m very excited about continuing.

What do you hope students take away from your class?

  • There are a few common ideas that I try to emphasize in all the classes that I teach. A lot of them focus on productivity, the general takeaway that you don’t have to spend your life in front of a monitor.
  • In teaching, I’ve noticed that a lot of my students have tried to learn the program before but have been unsuccessful. In my class I tell my students to ask me how to do something as many times as they like until it’s finally explained in a way that resonates with them. This is a community arts center and everyone has found us and is taking the class for different purposes. There’s nothing more rewarding than having someone exclaim in class “I finally get it!”

What is your favorite thing about Flower City Arts Center?

  • The supportive community and the different disciplines that are offered here. Being here you are able to interact with such a variety of people from all walks and stages of life. There is always something to be learned or a connection to make. There are people who have their work in museums and are so very friendly with imparting advice and knowledge.

Do you have a catchphrase? If not, what would you make your catchphrase if you had to choose one? Why?

  • “You Got This” – I have come to find that when it comes to learning art people are apprehensive because they are very unsure where to start. They look at working artists who are very prolific and are immediately cast in doubt in regards to their own abilities. Some of the most interesting solutions and art I have seen has come from those who have a different perspective precisely because they haven’t been an artist for all their life. With sincere encouragement it’s truly inspiring to see people becoming more confident in themselves and their artistic voice.

If you had a superpower what would it be?

    • The superpower I’d love to have: The ability to understand and speak all languages, including the tongues of the animal kingdom!
    • The superpower that I’m more realistically likely to have: Having two incredibly useful points of information on any topic that exists.
If you’d like to learn more about Jeremy, or see more of his work check out his online portfolio and photography website.

Join us July 18th on Instagram LIVE!

Join us tomorrow afternoon, July 18th, at 3pm for a LIVE video interview with AIR Megan May! Intern DesRee Taylor and I will be taking over the Center’s Instagram account (@rochesterarts) to share May’s process and to give you all a sneak peek of her upcoming class Superheroes, Archetypes, and Idols: Reimagining Feminine Role Models Through Self-Portraiture.

Get to Know Your Instructor: Christopher Cecere

Chris Cecere is the Sports Photography instructor here in the Photography and Digital Arts Department.

April 27, 2017; Pittsford, NY; USA; Andrew Russell (9) and Frank Imburgia (5) during a Section V high school lacrosse game between the Pittsford Panthers and the Victor Blue Devils at Pittsford Sutherland H.S. Victor won 6-3. Photo: Christopher Cecere/Inside Lacrosse

How long have you been an instructor here?

  • Six years

What would you consider to be the most important thing for students to do in order to reach their full potential in your class?

  • Understanding that one can still cover sporting events, even if you do not have expensive equipment. Keeping this in mind allows the student to learn skills to compensate for not having the latest and greatest camera or lens.

July 26, 2014; Rochester, NY, United States; Blake Davis (10) and Doug Bernier (17) during Rochester Red Wings vs. Indianapolis Indians at Frontier Field. Photo: Christopher Cecere

What do you hope students take away from your class?

  • Trying something new from the class or outside of their normal positioning/angles on the sidelines will give them a new perspective on how they plan to shoot a game.

June 13, 2015; Rochester, NY; USA; during Louisville City FC vs. Rochester Rhinos at Sahlen’s Stadium. Photo: Christopher Cecere

What are some benefits of taking a summer session class?

  • By taking a summer class, we are not limited to indoor events. Also baseball and soccer are the key sports during the summer.

Do you have a catchphrase? If not, what would you make it? Why?

  • I like to say “cool story bro” a lot. Usually as a joke when someone won’t stop talking.

March 08, 2013; Rochester, NY; USA; Luke Adam (72) during Rochester Americans v Abbotsford Heat at Blue Cross Arena. Photo: Christopher Cecere

If you had a superpower what would it be?

  • I don’t think you could beat the ability to fly. Never having to deal with the airport shenanigans again would be fantastic.

Get to Know Your Instructor: Jon Merritt

Jonathan Merritt (Jon) is an instructor here in the Photography and Digital Arts Department. He mainly teaches darkroom classes such as Intermediate Black and White Photography, Cyanotype, and Kallitype.

Tannic Cyanotype behind glass, 2016

What is your favorite subject matter to cover in your classes?

  •  For my black and white film/Darkroom courses I love teaching Split Grade printing. I think it’s a fantastic problem solver for students, encouraging them to approach their prints tonally rather than “is it too bright/is it too dark.” For my alternative process classes, I think I’m particularly a fan of toning Cyanotypes. It’s exciting seeing how far you can push the color from blue.

What would you consider to be the most important thing for students to do in order to reach their full potential in your class?

  • For all my classes I’d say it’s the determination to make one more print. Because there’s often more labor involved with wet printing process, it can seem frustrating when you’re so close to your “best” print, but there’s just one thing you still need to do to make it shine. I think this determination develops as you bond with the process, but I’m here to help too.

Utah, August 2017 (Silver Gelatin Print)

What is your favorite piece of equipment?

  •  Light sensitive paper! You don’t need a camera to make great work.

What is your favorite thing about Flower City Arts Center?

  • The Center has such a great vibe. Its facilities allow for privacy and for camaraderie. That’s a tough feel to pull off. Dan’s room is the best Darkroom I’ve ever used, too.

Closeup detail of a Deep Tannic Cyanotype, 2017

Do you have a catchphrase? If not, what would you make it if you had to choose one? Why?

  •  I don’t, but if I did it would probably be “walk and explore.” Corny I know, but I think one of the best things about photography is that it encourages you to explore areas you wouldn’t otherwise. Photography (hopefully) breaks the routine of job > home-and-done-for-the-day.

If you had to choose a television/ movie universe to live in, which one would it be?

  • I would love to live in a Hayao Miyazaki film. Think Spirited Away or maybe Porco Rosso. So colorful and full of mystery. I could get lost there.

Interview with Louis Chavez

This week we launched our fourth online exhibition: One Year Later | Experiments in Process by Louis Chavez. I first met Louis last summer when I gave them a tour of our darkrooms. I remember being slightly taken aback when they were only interested in film processing, and not printing. Part of the magic of the darkroom is the print after all! I soon discovered that Louis made digital prints from their negative scans – the print was still an important part of their practice. Over the past several months I’ve really enjoyed watching Louis experiment in our darkrooms. Louis has also been an active member of our Darkroom Club where they’ve brought in their color film photographs. Learn more about Louis’ practice in my interview with them below.

Megan Charland: You only recently started incorporating photography into your art practice. Can you share what this medium adds to your practice and what using a camera means to you?

Louis Chavez: I’ve been into photography since I was a kid, mostly shooting with cheap toy or thrift store cameras, but it was only this year that I began to focus on learning the ins and outs of shooting with a film SLR. Using a camera allows me to represent my surroundings as authentically as I possibly can, and it has been one of the best ways for me to share these stories and bring visibility to queer and other marginalized communities.

MC: You almost exclusively are shooting film, correct? Why film photography?

LC: Film has always struck me as so much more warm and vibrant. The tones you capture when working with photo emulsion are unlike anything you see with digital, and you can alter your entire feel by choosing a different film stock. Along with photography, I have also done a good deal of screen printing, which often incorporates photo emulsion into the process of making your screen. Transferring an image to emulsion, via lens or a transparency sheet, is such a cool and interesting technique.

MC: I’m looking forward to seeing your upcoming newsprint zine you’ve been teasing – what can we expect from this project? Have you seen your zine practice shift since you started working with photography?

LC: It was never meant to be a tease so much as it’s more a matter of indecision. I find it difficult to choose which images to put in print, because that always feels so final… but making that commitment is also the point. In keeping with the tradition of analog media, I think photo work ought to be put in print, and to be shared with your audience in a tangible form. With photo zines, I tend to be more concerned with the quality of the output — from the paper type to the ink quality. For my online exhibition here, I really wanted to share a culmination of this year’s work — both online and in the form of a tabloid-sized newsprint zine.

MC: For your online exhibition here you shared different processes you’ve experimented with over the past year. What does 2018 look like for you? Are there any additional processes you are looking to experiment with, or current processes you are excited to master?

LC: I began scanning my own film this year, utilizing the facilities at the Flower City Art Center, and it has encouraged me to pick up my own scanner in order to gain a more thorough understanding of scan techniques and color correction. My goal is to have a minimal setup of bulk film, developing supplies and a scanner in order to produce images at the most inexpensive rate I can. Aside from that, I’d like to further explore documentary and editorial projects, and begin to work as a photographer on a semi-regular basis.

Interview with Citlali Fabián

This week we launched our third online exhibition: It is called the American Flag by Citlali Fabián. Citlali was an artist-in-residence here at the Center this summer where she started working on a new photographic project. This online exhibition is a culmination of her three month residency – and I’m already looking forward to having Citlali back here in Rochester next year!

Megan Charland: For this project you used a Fuji Instax camera. Why did you decide to use instant film for these photos when you primarily photograph with black and white film?

Citlali Fabián: Different projects requires different ways to approach them. In the case of this particular project I think shooting in color was necessary to me because showing color from the flag and the houses were important to collect more information and to exalt the flag’s presence. Also instax film help me to creat photographic objects with a unique essence.

MC: Is this project complete? If not, at what point do you think it will be finished?

CF: Not yet. I have a clear idea about how I want to finish it. But unfortunately my time here went so fast. I’m planing to come next year to finish it and publish a book about it.

MC: You started It is called the American Flag while a resident here at Flower City Arts Center this summer. What do you plan on working on once you return to Mexico this fall? Do you see a Mexican Flag project in your future?

CF: I’m planning to finish a long term photographic project called Apuntes sobre mi madre this fall.  It is a wet plate collodion project that I will show next year in Houston and Rochester.

I don’t think I will do a project about the Mexican flag because it has a different impact. I don’t see Mexican flags there every three four houses as here.  They have a presence on government buildings, during the World Cup or at Independence Day on September 16th.

MC: You recently completed a Certificate in Photographic Preservation and Collection Management from the George Eastman Museum. How does this professional experience impact your personal art practice?

CF: This experience let me see and start to plan better ways to develop my career. But definitely the best and more constructive part to me was been able to see master pieces from different renowned artists. That experience changed and opened up my mind. I believe as visual artist part of our duty is saw art because we grown from it. I feel so lucky to been able to see images that I knew from books and to be able to appreciate their without the glass between us. My favorite so far Julia Margaret Cameron images.

Interview with Kristy Bianchi

Last week we launched our second online exhibition: Public Market by Kristy Bianchi. I initially reached out to Kristy after viewing her photographs from Arleen Thaler’s ROC Photo Map project. The way she captured color and form, her attention to detail, the stories she told – I wanted to see more!

Megan Charland: I was surprised to learn that you only recently started working in photography. What made you decide to pick up a camera? Can you talk a little about your training?

Kristy Bianchi: In the past I’ve played around with point and shoot cameras, but never got the photography bug until about a year and a half ago. I’ve spent years curating and incorporating other peoples images for graphic design projects, but not my own. That’s probably what made me realize it was time to learn how to use a camera and expand my skill set. Taking Karl Heinz Kremer’s beginner Digital SLR class at Flower City Arts Center was one of the best decisions I ever made. Ever since then I’ve been working on learning as much as I can, taking different classes at the Arts Center, and just going out shooting. It’ll be a life long process, and its been enjoyable every step of the way.

MC: With your background in graphic design, how do you think that work influences your photography?

KB: It definitely helped train my eye, giving me a good grasp on composition. Teaching me the value of negative space, the rule of thirds, directing and capturing how the eye flows when looking at images, and how to focus on what the main message or subject is in an artful way.

MC: Browsing your website it looks like you primarily take a photo-journalistic approach to your subjects, can you talk about how you approach your subjects?

KB: I like to sit back and see what unfolds, but also dive in and take a 360 degree approach with my subjects, lighting, and environment. Sort of moving around until I see what works, trying to blend the three into a nice image.

MC: What’s next? Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you want to share?

KB: I’d like to work on some more complex photo composite projects. Some elaborate surreal/fantasy style portraits incorporating models, make-up, costumes, scouted locations, then edited in photoshop.

Going on photo walks with Arleen Thaler really opened up my eyes and taught me a lot, making me discover my love of street documentary style photography. There will be more of that in my future for sure.

I’m kind of obsessed with macro nature photography, and I want to get into commercial, editorial and video work.

So I’m kind of all over the place! Right now I’m dabbling in as many areas as I can, as time goes on I’ll have a better idea on what I want to focus on, so far I love all of it :).

Q: Do you have any advice for photographers just starting out?

A: Bring your camera everywhere you can, you never know what might catch your eye.

Take some classes learn the basics, don’t get overwhelmed with all the equipment out there.

Instagram is a great way to see whats going on and get your work seen. Most of all practice, experiment and have fun with it!

Interview with Floyd Gibson

Good morning! Over the weekend I had the pleasure of interviewing Floyd Gibson. His exhibition I’m Every Woman: Fashion of the Ages is on view here at the Center through Saturday, October 29th.

Want to learn more about I’m Every Woman? Join me this Wednesday, October 5th at 7pm for Floyd’s artist talk. Model, and collaborator, Rebecca Holtz will be present to discuss what it was like researching and portraying women’s fashions from the 1920’s through the 1970’s. In the meantime, check out the interview below:

1920s Casual Wear

Megan Charland: Wow! We had such a great turn-out at your opening reception last month – what was it like for you as a first-time exhibiting artist to share your photographs with so many people?

Floyd Gibson: I was absolutely “blown away” by the opening turnout. I’m happy I decided, reluctantly, to show this work after speaking with you and feeling the project was worthy. I knew that the work told a story but was really surprised at the interest shown by the community.

MC: In your artist statement you say this project was inspired by watching old movies on the Turner Classic Movie channel. Is there a particular time period that you favor? A favorite movie from that period?

FG: I watch many movies on Turner Classic Movies channel but I’d say that gangster movies are my favorite genre, and I favor the films from the 1930’s right through the godfather series. I enjoy them all & if I had to pick one, it would be Godfather I.

MC: This project took you a little over a year to complete – do you prefer these long-term projects or was this a challenge?

FG: I simply enjoy photography & don’t necessarily think in terms of time. I do however prefer telling a story & when it ends, it ends. Obviously with this project the time is not defined but the timeline is.

MC: So, what’s next? Are you currently working on another body of work? Will it be another long-term project?

FG: I am working on another project that will involve many people & will take some time but not nearly as long as this one. One of the benefits of producing this work is that I learned a lot about myself and processes that I can apply going forward.