I'm glad I waited till just after the darkest shade of evening on New Year's snow-bright night 1985, to visit Julie Bennett's Ultra Violet Sculpture at the Theatre Gallery, 2806 Commerce.
Several signs around the rambling front space said "Do Not Touch." But the subtly radiating soft electric colored, and rhythmic shape drawings were elegant and sweet in my mind. Optically illusionary, like intelligent mind candy, they glowed under the purplish UV lamps (Unfortunately, several of the works were touched, some marked and damaged; Bennett had to pull the show before its scheduled end.)
The abstracts were delicate to the eye's touch like logical magic, and their actinic colors shimmered in the darkened space. Light arcs and swirls and cojoining forms, lines and masses, in bigger than life size, neon painted steel-all kinds of eye delighting shapes. This was sculpture you could almost dance to. Happy, radiations of visual music. Even I felt the need to reach out and fondle it.
Julie said that watching her pieces in that day's ever-changing lights and darks had been especially nice during the long, cold 1-10 pm opening. The gray afternoon had gradually turned even grayer, dark to black. Then back to fluffy white in the scary light/dark of a snow-lit night.
Seen in the gray winter dark, it was eerily special. Daylight swallowed up its extra-spectral qualities, but the strongly, delicate, elegantly arcing forms and vivid colors were evident in any light. Properly illuminated with the faint, electric dark purple UV lamps overhead in the dank Deep Elm space, the show was stellar.
At the time, I hadn't seen anything of Bennett's since I'd watched Arch As Burning Bridge, a gas-burning steel arch, flaming in the dark and cold of winter 1980, by the big front door of 500 Exposition. But the New Year's show indicated a substantial body of colorfully exciting new work.
The New Year's show pieces have since appeared at last spring's Art In the Metroplex (AIM) show at TCU, and D-Art's Critic's Choice. Another, new work is in the prestigious Delta Arts Exhibition in Little Rock, juried by James Surls. A new piece with snakes and mirrors was in the Madonna Show this fall.
Her Fuel In Flight stand-up, at last spring's prestigious AIM show, featured a slender thread of ascending neon orange steel.
Retinally alive, the infra orange arc snakes upward and zeniths gracefully. Then, like a wave of light splattering through a prism, the color line falls back through a flat, also orange triangle and disperses into three distinct rods, all falling orange, then segueing quickly through red-purple, down to a vivid contrasting electric blue base.
Another neo neon Bennett work at AIM was Psyche's Vortex, bands of thin metal color spiraling brightly into a fluorescent compliment of yellow and purple infinity.
Julie progressed to abstract, primary color metal structure through vivid realism and ceramics. She came, she said, "from an extreme realism background." She studied with Olin Travis at the Dallas Museum of Natural History, where she worked as a handyman, later Staff Artist, skinning birds and making drawings.
This early work got so realistic, she considered going into medical illustration. "I was so far into making things look exactly as they were." She says, "I pushed realism so far, I got trapped. There was nowhere else to go without changing what I see-no worlds to conquer."
"I just flipped out, and quit making art for about a year. Then I jumped into abstract ceramics." Bennett had won awards in grade school for clay.
After a disappointing year at TCU, Bennett went to UT Austin, where she reveled in the "unlimited resources." There, she "got caught up in craft as art form." She didn't get her degree because, she said, "I was scared I'd use it to teach art."
At UT, she built larger and larger ceramics, often firing pieces separately, then stacking and gluing them together. "I hated to give up ceramics, because of the glass color." But the works were becoming too long and spindly; they'd break off and were fragile." The size limit was getting to her.
Although there are color and structural similarities between hear earlier ceramics and the metal pieces she's done since 1980, she's now doing things that were impossible with ceramics. Bennett has "put things on little legs, made them reach out, or tall and skinny."
Her "natural history and science background" is where her "fascination with structure and balance comes from." She cited Nature's use of "basic structures, over and over and over in different combinations-that's how camouflage works."
She started to making solid shapes. But, said Bennett, most solid sculpture is limited to one main point of view. She "wanted to strip the skin off stuff."
"It is three-dimensional, why not make it work that way?" Her artistic interest lies in paring shapes down to their structural and color essence. Since 1980, her large, broadly colored, simplified metal pieces have manifested this interest.
Some have criticized her for using those throbbing 60s-like colors. But, Julie says, citing vivid, day-glowing natural colors like coral reefs and fish in the underwater world, "those were not 60s colors, they've been all along."
After school in junior high, she learned tricks and techniques in two-dimensional art while working part-time for Advertising Arts, an ad agency, now called Museum Arts. After college, she worked at a variety of failing antique clothing stores.
Then, last July, Museum Arts offered her a job as "sculptor," helping construct a walk-through history of petroleum, to be installed next summer at the giant Science and Industry Museum in Chicago.
It doesn't leave her much time for her own work, but it's a dream job for a sculptor. her current project is making a large gondola for a Jules Verne balloon ride. She says she's "incredibly fortunate" to get to "make huge stuff that both amuses and educates thousands of people."
At Museum Arts, she's "learning all kinds of wonderful techniques" and "gets to work big-and with other artists." She relishes the exchange of ideas there.
Bennett collaborated with Greg Metz on a protest piece at last spring's ArtWalk 85 and on another live-chicken piece, the much celebrated Artist's Wheel of Misfortune, winner of this fall's Kinetic Sculpture Parade. (The chickens now roam her front yard.) She also helped make the set and was on stage during the Cabaret Voltaire re-enactment at the Dallas Museum of Art this fall.
Another collaboration produced giant hot dogs featured in the current movie, The Dirt Bike Kid, which was filmed in Dallas.
Bennett's most recent sculpture uses the same structurally elegant forms as the psychedelic pieces she showed on New Year's. But now the structures are dark, almost invisible silhouettes. Replacing the broad areas of electric colors are dancing squiggles of multi-hued iridescence, visibly animated by the invisible UV light.
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