A new art gallery, Kind Design Fine Art, is having its grand opening Feb. 10 from 3 to 8 p.m. in Valparaiso. There will be wine, food, chocolate martinis and art giveaways and the event is open to the public. I had a chance to catch up with Julia Vanover, the talented artist behind the gallery.
When did you first become interested in art? What did you create at that time?
I first became interested in art as a child and was very lucky to have parents that supported my interests. There was always a healthy supply of paper, crayons, paints, and clay. My father created an art wall in the foyer of our house; he did his rendition of Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian that was a lot of fun when company came over.
My sister (10 years older) would steel me to her art classes when she was in college. She taught me shadowing effects. My father taught me perspective drawing techniques and I began painting on canvas around age 10. My older brother taught me to whittle and carve small shapes out of wood and I always loved working in clay.
When did you first decide to pursue art as a career?
I began in my twenties after graduating from Roanoke College in Virgina with an art degree. I opened a studio and small gallery in my basement. I did lots of individual and group portraits at that time. I had an amazing mentor, Paul Vincent. He was a successful watercolor realist artist that created breathtaking watercolors. He loved to paint on site and would call me and say, “The clouds are great today, we have to paint”.
We painted on location all over Wise County, Virginia. But after my daughter was born, I became intensely interested in family dynamics. Much to my mentor’s disappointment, I decided to change careers and go into Social Work. I eventually became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and worked in the mental health field for twenty years. However, I did learn Art Therapy techniques and worked in that venue with many clients.
It’s an effective therapy is working with trauma, anxiety and grief. I also taught other clinicians how to utilize Art Therapy techniques.
After my daughter and step-son were grown, I was getting recruitment letters from the military. They were continuously requesting experienced therapists to help with the high suicide and PTSD rates among the troops. I decided to join the Air Force for three years to help out. It turned into five, and one deployment. After my years serving, I worked for Veterans Affairs. Throughout my social work career, I kept painting, drawing and sculpting. I always had studio space wherever I lived, no matter how small.
Please tell me about the events that led to your gallery.
I have never regretted changing careers towards social work, but little happenings would occur that reminded me how much I love creating. I would often catch myself feeling jealous when my clients were doing Art Therapy and I had to play the role as the clinician, rather than get lost in the project. Once during a military move, I was packing up some of my art I hadn’t seen in years. I was looking at it more objectively, as if someone else had created it, and the thought crossed my mind, “This person should have been an artist”, and I felt suddenly sad.
At work, whenever my co-workers and I were commiserating about something negative happening in the office, I would often say, “Oh, I’m just going to give this up and become an artist”. I doodled during almost every meeting, and would get compliments. People began to ask me if they could have my doodles and I delighted in giving them as gifts. I often gave paintings and small sculptures to staff when I moved bases or offices. When I left Laughlin AFB, I gave everyone a sculpted sea turtle.
This is a sad story, but I’m grateful for it because I would have never begun an art career full time without this experience. While in the military, I was awarded and appreciated for my work. I left the military with many high honors. I made the tough decision to resign from the VA. Without these tough experiences, I would have never left treating clients.
I just wanted to be my own boss in a less complicated environment. My boyfriend, Devon Hunt, kept suggesting that an art business would do well in this area. I realized that there were plenty of people who were able to make a living as an artist, that there was a possibility I could do it also. I just needed to take the jump. If I failed, at least I tried. So I expanded the studio in my home from my guest bedroom to also my living room and front porch. For over a year, I sold art at various festivals. The response I received surprised me; people really enjoyed my art and importantly, they paid for it.
Soon, my studio took over most of my home and again, with my boyfriend’s encouragement, I decided to move into a studio space. We looked at many different sites. When this site became open, I jumped at the chance. It was close to home and the perfect size. It was also a storefront, a nice feature.
You have chosen an interesting name for your new gallery. Is the meaning behind the name?
Yes, the name is meaningful to me. All my life, I’ve sought out ways to connect to people through kindness. I love studying really kind people and learning from them. Which is different than being nice – nice is surface – really wanting to benefit someone is being kind. I am always trying to find a kinder, more honest response and reaction to those around me. It’s how I try to connect with people. My artwork is about connecting with others in an honest, kind, generous way while also being good to myself. It’s a balance; my lines in my work represent this desire for real connection.
What are some of the times that have meant the most to you as an artist, and why?
Having an art mentor in my twenties was invaluable to me. He has passed away and I wish I could tell him what I’m doing now. But I feel like I remember so much of what he said, and I want to honor him by being committed to my work. Recently, I feel incredibly grateful when someone tells me that my artwork reminds them their feelings of disconnect is human, not something to feel bad about. I recently sold a piece to a woman whose parents escaped Stalin’s regime and her family could never return home. My work brought her a sense of being understood. It’s also rewarding to me that I can use all my past experiences, create art about it and also write about it on my blog on my website. People tell me my writing combined with my art is now a source of inspiration for them. What could be better?
What is your latest artistic endeavor and what is the inspiration behind it?
The last series was called, “Homesick Trees”. It’s about that feeling I had as a child in my small Appalachian town in Virginia of belonging and feeling known, understood. I miss feeling surrounded with all that support; and how I freely gave sincere support while my intentions were accurately interpreted. Now that I’m talking about this; I think the series has been about recovering still somewhat from the experience I talked about in the military. It’s been cathartic for me doing this series. The response from collectors has been incredible, I think they appreciate the honesty, the message.
What projects will you be pursuing next?
I have a draft outline for a graphic novel and need to devote time to focus on that daily. It’s about taking risks, truly getting to know ourselves and trusting in the current/flow that comes from doing what we enjoy. I’m also working on a horse series, in pen and inks, paintings and sculpture. The power and beauty of the horse has captivated me for some time. The intense connection we feel when caring for horses is about trust, respect and just sheer love.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
I still consider myself an aspiring artist. So here’s what I try to do based on the advice given to me. Nancy Hooten, a well known artist in Savannah, Georgia, that my good friend and curator Tonia Sammons introduced me to, told me, “Artists produce”. So I try to produce – lots. Paul Vincent, my mentor, was very organized and his studio was always clean and neat. I try my best to imitate this memory; not always successfully, but I try. I try to have a place for everything and to make time at the end of the day to prepare the space to be welcoming for me. Comedian Steve Martin advises, “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. So I try to create work that is more than people expect. When people say, “Oh Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this,” I know I’m going in the right direction. And just last Saturday night, I went to see a musician, Sputzy, at Doc’s Oyster Bar. He recently moved here from Pitsburgh where he is in their Hall of Fame. I was so impressed with his level of commitment to giving all his energy to each song; it’s inspired me to push my commitment level more – to more completely dive into the spirit of the piece I’m creating.