It won’t take you long to realize that Julie Armbruster isn’t just a striking visual artist – she’s a powerful story teller, too.
Armbruster’s exhibit, “Opposite Day” opened this month in our Downtown location, and it’s a wild ride of color, character, and composition that grabs the eye and then runs into the imagination. The work bursts with color and life and is inhabited by a cast of characters that are simultaneously alluring and suspect. Almost every one of these figures seems to live in a world of swirling activity where life and experience happen to them in ways they seem to comprehend or at the very least struggle to understand. You can see it in their eyes.
At first, it’s easy to ascribe all the activity behind the eyes to one’s own imagination, but Armbruster knows it’s true. She also knows what’s happening: “I can totally tell what they are thinking. Many times, they are experiencing a shift in consciousness. It hits them like a ton of bricks and they are letting it set in.”
These are characters with lives of their own. Even though the artist creates them, they appear, develop and evolve at their own pace, often over the course of several paintings. Armbruster says, “They are recurring and reveal more of their story as they appear to me. The panels are not always sequential, so sometimes I need to invent paintings to fill in the blanks. “
Although Armbruster says she doesn’t think of herself as a writer, when she speaks of her work she often drifts into a writer’s vocabulary as she mentions narrative elements, character development, even plot. In fact, she might be able tell you the plot of any given piece of work if she were willing, but, like many good writers, her work invites “the viewer to investigate the details and symbols and decide what it all means.”
And there’s plenty to investigate.
Armbruster works from a very special, imaginative point of view because, she says, that “my largest influence right now is my 4-year old daughter, Olive. Her brain flexibility and continuous growth is mind-boggling.” If you’ve ever let a four-year-old tell you a story, you’ll understand how richly varied, textured, and even surreal unencumbered imagination can be. It’s precisely that quality that gives Armbruster’s work its allure.
Yet, despite the vibrant colors and strokes of comic shaping in her work, Armbruster doesn’t present a naïve world – many of the works have a sense of something that’s not quite threatening but not all peaches and cream, either. And that feeling makes one wonder if her characters, behind all the color and activity, are all happy people. Armbruster, naturally, won’t quite say, but she does think, “happiness is something to work towards. There are very few great things that are given freely. My work is a combination of the vibrant and upbeat colors with a steady and cautious interior. “
“Opposite Day” will hang downtown through September 2nd and at the Gallery location from September 3 through October 1.
This show marks the fourth of Julie’s Tomato Head installations and the first in over four years. In honor of that, Tomato Head will host a closing artist reception on Sunday September 30th, 5:00 – 8:00 pm at the Gallery location, 7240 Kingston Pike, Suite 172.