Cocoon Theatre Visual Arts Initiative presents
Julia Whitney Barnes
Botany of Poughkeepsie
October 4–27, 2019
At Cunneen Hackett Art Gallery on 12 Vassar St. Poughkeepise NY 126901
Opening Reception: Friday, October 4, 5–8 pm
Artist’s Talk: Saturday, October 26, 2–3:30 pm
Cocoon Theatre Visual Arts Initiative is pleased to present Botany of Poughkeepsie, an exhibition of recent work by Julia Whitney Barnes at the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center located at 12 Vassar St., Poughkeepsie, NY. Comprised of combined media encaustic works on panel, the show will be on view from October 4–27. The exhibition is the first time this body of work, which was created from 2016–2019, will be shown.
Botany of Poughkeepsie features works on paper mounted on wood panel and coated with encaustic media and pigments. Several photographic processes are used, including cyanotypes, paper lithographs, and toner prints, all of which are made without a camera. Drawing and collage are also frequently employed in the layers beneath the wax. Cunneen-Hackett's north-facing gallery will be filled with cyanotype-based works, which utilize the negative space surrounding each botanical composition. The south-facing gallery will be filled with paper lithograph and toner-printed works that focus on the positive space of each botanical composition.
In the summer of 2015, Julia Whitney Barnes moved from Brooklyn to a hundred-year-old house in the City of Poughkeepsie, along with her photographer husband, Sean Hemmerle. Four weeks later, she gave birth to their daughter, Magnolia. Instead of a baptism for the baby, the couple organized a tree planting ceremony and positioned a magnolia tree in their front yard, including the placenta as fertilizer. This small act was the beginning of the artist’s intimate connection to plants growing in her yard. After the birth of their son August in 2018, the couple had a similar ceremony with a dogwood tree in their back yard.
Throughout the eighteen years Whitney Barnes lived in New York City, one of the things she felt most lacking was a direct relationship with nature. After moving to Poughkeepsie, the influence of having green space of her own for the first time in her adult life started to creep into her studio process. The simple action of frequently going outside, then inside, then outside again made Whitney Barnes think about interior/exterior in formal and metaphorical ways.
In this series, Whitney Barnes approaches each growing thing with equal importance regardless of whether it is a weed, rare species, wildflower, or cultivated flower. Most works have several species fused into one composition, often to the point where the exact plants depicted are open to interpretation.
Reading Michael Pollan’s influential book “Botany of Desire” – a decade before her move to Poughkeepsie – planted the seed for the way Whitney Barnes would come to think about the natural world. The publisher’s teaser for the text explains:
Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. In “The Botany of Desire,” Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?
Honeybees were also integral to the creation of Botany of Poughkeepsie. Beyond pollinating the plants that became the source imagery, bees made the wax that is the primary ingredient of encaustic medium. To honor their contribution, Whitney Barnes will be donating 10% of sales from this show to Hudson Valley Bee Habitat, an organization dedicated to saving bees through the arts.
Whitney Barnes’s home is near Springside, the “country estate” of Vassar College founder Matthew Vassar. Showing this work at Cunneen-Hackett helps foster a connection to the artist’s own “Poughkeepsie Paradise.” Cunneen-Hackett's landmarked Victorian building at 12 Vassar Street was underwritten by John Guy Vassar and Matthew Vassar Jr., nephews of Matthew Vassar, and was created to bring the arts, culture, and the discussion of science and nature to the City of Poughkeepsie. Botany of Poughkeepsie pays homage to the original intention of the building with this site-specific installation of Victorian era inspired imagery.
Julia Whitney Barnes received her BFA from Parsons School of Design and MFA from Hunter College, both in New York, NY. She has exhibited throughout the United States and abroad and her work has been featured in The New York Times, Chronogram Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, Hyperallergic, The New York Sun, USA Today, and The Poughkeepsie Journal amongst many more. Whitney Barnes is the recipient of fellowships from Arts Mid-Hudson, Arts Westchester, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Abbey Memorial Fund for Mural Painting/National Academy of Fine Arts, and the Gowanus Public Art Initiative. She completed public art projects in Fjellerup, Denmark through funding from Kulturpuljen, Norddjurs Kommune, Denmark in 2013 and in New York through the NYCDOT Urban Art program in 2011. Whitney Barnes’s installation Hudson River of Bricks, comprised of thousands of historic bricks, was shown at The Trolley Barn, Poughkeepsie, NY; Arts Westchester, White Plains, NY; GlenLily Grounds, Newburgh, NY; and most recently at Wilderstein Sculpture Biennial, Rhinebeck, NY. Whitney Barnes also creates site-specific paintings on walls and floors in public and private spaces. She is on the faculty at Marist College and a CSA member of Poughkeepsie Farm Project.
For further information:
Andrés San Millán firstname.lastname@example.org 845.663.6273
Gallery Hours: Monday–Friday, 1–5 pm and by appointment
Please note: If you arrive at the gallery and it appears closed, call the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center office 845.486.4571 across the street at 9 Vassar St.
INFORMATION ON TECHNIQUES:
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. Engineers used the process well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost process to produce copies of drawings, referred to as blueprints. The process uses two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. The English scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel discovered the procedure in 1842. Though Herschel developed the process, he considered it mainly a means of reproducing notes and diagrams, as in blueprints. Starting in 1843, Anna Atkins created a series of cyanotype limited-edition books that documented ferns and other plant life from her extensive seaweed collection, placing specimens directly onto coated paper and allowing the action of light to create a silhouette effect. By using this photogram process, Anna Atkins is sometimes considered the first female photographer.
Lithography uses simple chemical processes to create an image. For instance, the positive part of an image is a water-repelling ("hydrophobic") substance, while the negative image would be water-retaining ("hydrophilic"). Thus, when the plate is introduced to a compatible printing ink and water mixture, the ink will adhere to the positive image and the water will clean the negative image. This allows a flat print plate to be used, enabling much longer and more detailed print runs than the older physical methods of printing (e.g., intaglio printing, letterpress printing). Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1796. In the early days of lithography, a smooth piece of limestone was used (hence the name "lithography": "lithos" (λιθος) is the ancient Greek word for stone). After the oil-based image was put on the surface, a solution of gum arabic in water was applied, the gum sticking only to the non-oily surface. During printing, water adhered to the gum arabic surfaces and was repelled by the oily parts, while the oily ink used for printing did the opposite.
Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in” (enkaustikos). Heat is used throughout the process, from melting the beeswax and varnish to fusing the layers of wax. Encaustic consists of natural bees wax and dammar resin (crystallized tree sap). The medium can be used alone for its transparency or adhesive qualities or used pigmented. Pigments may be added to the medium, or purchased colored with traditional artist pigments. The medium is melted and applied with a brush or any tool the artist wishes to create from. Each layer is then reheated to fuse it to the previous layer. The wax encaustic painting technique was described by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder in his Natural History from the 1st Century AD. The oldest surviving encaustic panel paintings are the Romano-Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt around 100–300 AD, but it was a very common technique in ancient Greek and Roman painting. It continued to be used in early Byzantine icons, but was eventually abandoned in the Western Church. Encaustic art has seen a resurgence in popularity since the 1990s with people using electric irons, hotplates and heated styli on different surfaces including card, paper, and even pottery.
(Technical information paraphrased from Wikipedia)