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Ten Questions with Local Artist and Arts Educator, Julia Soderholm

Photo credit: Sharalee Prang

It might not feel like it, but summer officially turns to fall this week (the Autumn Equinox is on Thursday, September 22nd). A pause is in order. A walk in the forest to appreciate the changing season is encouraged, but we also suggest a trip to Slice of Life Gallery to see Small Seasons, a solo show of artwork by Julia Soderholm.

Soderholm’s work is all about the small changes in colour, texture and light that register on leaves and across landscapes, as nature moves through time. Admiring these observations on canvas feels particularly apropos to the shift in seasons. In anticipation of this show, we checked in with the artist to hear about her process, her experience and the conversations that happen between paintings… Here is what she had to say:

Tell us about your background… where did you grow up? I grew up near Guelph, Ontario, where my family still lives. I was interested in art from a young age, much of which I credit to growing up in a house where books, art, and music were commonplace. As a young teen, I started taking art classes after school, and had a wonderful teacher who really encouraged me to keep going with it.

When did you move to Vancouver? I moved to Vancouver in 2014 to begin a Master’s program in Art & Theology. Although I didn’t pursue grad school after the first year, I continued to focus on my own painting practice, and eventually pivoted to studying art education at UBC.

How would you describe your artwork? My paintings are colour-driven, gestural, and playful. Although my work references both landscape and still life subject areas, I am interested in abstracting what I see through the use of colour and form. This latest group of paintings are particularly focused on colour; although many of them begin with observation, the final pieces are significantly abstracted, with colour play at the heart of each piece.

“Exploration and play with materials has grown to be a vital part of my process, and I credit that to all the time I spend in a classroom.”

I see a keen observation of the natural environment in your work. Coming from Ontario to British Columbia, do you remember your first impression of the west coast environment compared to what you had grown up knowing back east? What were the sights, smells, and sounds that registered? I remember visiting family in Vancouver when I was in middle school, and I couldn’t believe how green everything was. It was March, and my town in Ontario still had the grey remains of snow on the ground, but Vancouver was already in bloom. Even today, that Spring abundance is my favourite part of living here. I anticipate each season and the bounty it brings – Rhododendrons in May, Asters in September, Pyracantha through the winter. It gives me a lot of great inspiration in the studio.

In addition to being an artist, you are also an arts educator. Have you learned anything about your own process as an artist through the act of teaching others? I consider my role as an art teacher and my work as an artist to be connected in many ways. I teach children ages five to ten, and am regularly in awe of their intuitive mark-making, playful brushwork, and unself-conscious approach to art making.

Since I started teaching, I’ve also developed a robust sketchbook practice. I try to model to my students the importance of using a sketchbook to explore ideas, and carrying one around with me at work has expanded my personal practice too. Exploration and play with materials has grown to be a vital part of my process, and I credit that to all the time I spend in a classroom.

Putting together a solo show is obviously a very different experience than collaborating with other artists for a group show. What stands out for you about the process of creating work for this show as different from your past experiences? I’ve been chipping away at this collection of work for nearly a year, so it has been a long and exploratory journey. For me, this process often looks like making paintings, scrapping paintings, editing, shifting ideas, and slowly seeing a cohesive collection emerge. This is only my second solo show, but I really enjoy the challenge of creating pieces that can be in conversation with one another when on display in a space.

Photo credit: Sharalee Prang

How do you know when a painting is done? When a painting feels like it’s close to being finished, I tend to live with it in the studio for a couple of weeks before calling it complete. Lately, I’ve taken to photographing paintings in progress, and digitally drawing on them to experiment with next steps. This process has been really exciting for me, because it allows me to try out colour ideas or even compositional changes without committing to it on the canvas.

How do you know when a show is ready? I like to make more than enough pieces for a show so that I have a lot of options to work with when I am editing the work into a final collection. This final step of deciding what to include and what to take out is challenging, but it’s become an important part of solidifying my vision for an exhibition. However, it’s always tempting to make one more painting to include, even in the final stages before the show opens.

Why Slice? Tell us a little about what you feel this gallery is doing right… I really like the way that Slice is working to make art more accessible and approachable to young people in the city. It has a thriving community built around it, and I appreciate their commitment to giving local artists a space to share what they are making.

Can you tell us what to expect at your upcoming show at Slice of Life Gallery? This show is about the small changes that happen in nature over the course of a year in Vancouver. I enjoyed the challenge of interpreting key moments through the constraints of my medium: oil, oil stick, and pastel. How to capture the first frost on the grass, or the yellow gingko leaves, or the dark mornings of January?

The paintings I made for this show are significantly smaller than my previous work. Many of the pieces are 16×20 and under, with a few exceptions. This change in scale allowed me to try new things and simplify my work. I’m also including a number of framed colour studies in this show, because the process of exploring colour is so central to this body of work. Although these studies are the smallest, they are also some of my favourites from the show, because of the way the frame becomes like a continuation of the piece itself.

Small Seasons will be on the walls of Slice of Life Gallery from September 22-27. Opening day hours (Thursday, September 22nd) are 12pm-10pm, with the artist in attendance from 6-10pm. You can book your spot in advance and get more details here.

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