Julie Riley is a Dayton visual artist with a studio at Front St. She sat down with Dayton Artists United at Wholly Grounds Coffee House, (825 Wayne Ave, Dayton, OH 45410,) for an interview on Friday, November 8, 2019.
DAU–Tell me about a book you’ve read that you like.
JR–I’ve been reading The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. He was a student of the Ashcan School in NY and an organizer of “The Eight,” a group of artists that protested the exhibition practices of the Academy of Design. The book consists of notes to his students explaining processes and helped them….. discover themselves. Such an interesting book. Also, I am a descendant of his, which makes it personally interesting.
DAU–What do you want people to take away from your work?
JR–I like to hear they have an emotional connection—-when someone reacts emotionally—-well, its powerful when someone finds personal meaning from something I’ve done. There was a painting I did, a large work, of three ice creams. This couple loved it because it reminded them of getting ice cream at the Greene together. They are a military family and they buy local art wherever they live. They lost their house in the tornado and they are buying art to replace things they lost, and they bought my work. It means a lot.
DAU–Talk to me about the Dayton Arts Community
JR—-Dayton is…well it’s surprising the number of artists we have here. It’s hard to meet other artists though, we’re kind of divided up, because we’re all in our studios on First Friday–even at Front St–where we’re all in the same building–I hardly get to visit other studios. You want to be in your studio when people are touring. If you’re selling and marketing work, people want to meet the artist. But I like being part of an artists community, being at Front St with other artists is very helpful.
DAU–Thinking about your work, what piece or pieces would you like to have represent you in a museum in say, the year 3020?
JR–I don’t know. Maybe I haven’t done it yet. I am still evolving to the style I want to get to…When I came back to painting, a 56 year old introvert, people said it was too late. But you never know when your last day is. I could have 30 years of painting in me. I could die tomorrow. I asked myself what I would regret. I would regret not having tried to paint. I gave myself three years. The first year I sold 69 paintings. In the second year I’ve sold enough to have a few little extras. But you have to work hard and focus. I spend at least 40 hours a week in my studio. I treat it like my full time job. I set goals and work toward them. And I use my marketing background, 25% of my time is spent on sales and marketing. But 75% of my time is spent painting, and I am making a living doing something I love. You can make a living if you make the effort.
DAU–So, is that the wisdom you would pass to a young artist?
JR—-I tell any artist that asks my advice about painting to draw, draw, draw. Being able to draw will help you so much when you move into painting. And get instruction, in art, but also in business and marketing. An artist has to be able to promote herself. You need to know how to manage yourself, so that you earn from your work.
DAU–You came back to art at 56. What did you come back from?
JR–I left art and went into software for 30 years. Then both my parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I left my job, I made a conscious decision to care for them. Dad has passed, and mom is in memory care.
I decided to go back to work. I could have gone back to software, but I thought, well that is always out there as an option.
But I’ve learned from this. You know, mom is sleeping 23 and a half hours a day. I sit with her some every day, I want to be there when she opens her eyes. Sometimes she has just a moment of clarity, and I’ve learned it’s important to seize them. It’s hard, mom is just skin and bone, and it’s hard to see her like that. I don’t feel bad about being the one to take care of them, I feel lucky. Its helped me be more caring toward everyone. And it’s taught me, you have to seize your moments.
DAU–Do you think your experience of dementia informs your work?
JR –I don’t know. I do these birds, you know. My mom was birder, like a real birder that would get up and go out at like 3 in the morning trying to spot a particular bird. In the memory care where she is now they have an aviary, and there is one particular bird she likes. I took some pictures of it and painted it for her. My thoughts are of her when I paint birds. And my dad was an artist. He gave it up because of a thing with his parents. His mom used a painting he gave her as a drop cloth when she painted her house. She was not a nice woman. He never painted again. But he doodled, and some of his doodles find their way into my work.
DAU–So, your dad was an artist, and you’re related to the artist Robert Henri and his cousin Mary Cassatt. Did that make you feel like art is in your blood?
JR—-It’s a neat thing to look at the family tree and see all those people listed with their professions as artist. It isn’t a motivating thing. I didn’t become an artist because of them, but it feels like a support. They did it. I can do it. Maybe someday, one of my descendents will see my name on ancestry.com and the profession next to my name listed as artist. Maybe that will empower them to paint.
DAU– You said that an artist has to set goals. Is that one of yours, to be known as an artist?
JR—-I wouldn’t say I want to be famous. I would like to grow. Maybe have my work in a show outside of Dayton, grow my audience. I am talking to some people. I am working on that goal. Having that happen would be great.
DAU-Thank you Julie Riley for talking to us.
JR— Thank You