Fish out of Water, 2016
Materials: Colored paper collage with hand-cut black Tyvek, 28” x 36”
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), sixth floor hallway, outside patient rooms H6-131 and H6-132
This dramatic composition first impresses us with its vigor and movement. Even before we recognize individual forms as fish and water plants, and then the ripples on a pond, the sinuous lines that form them and the diagonal directions in which they move reveal Julie Friedman’s goal for this work: It teems with life. Life is movement.
She has re-created movement here in multiple steps. Studying pisciforms in the fish tank at local pet stores and from photos made there and elsewhere in nature, she drew first on tracing paper to the desired scale in order to plan the overall composition. Then, with various sizes of Exacto knife, she painstakingly cut the heavy black material known as Tyvek, which we perhaps know better from construction sites. Chosen for its flex and durability, here it has become the vehicle for almost theatrical silhouettes: Leaping fish, diving fish, swimming fish. Reeds swaying and crisscrossing in and around the margins of a pond. Ripples and reflections skimming on the water. Friedman observes it all and re-presents it to us as simplified, eloquent form, its impact heightened by the collaged, brilliantly colored paper to which the Tyvek cut-outs are affixed. The addition of color comes late in this series of cut paper works and reveals her painterly instincts: Color reinforces motion in sky and water, and in the creatures moving between the two.
Of course, we know that a fish out of water is something out of its element, and we can all relate to that feeling from time to time; the title here sets us up with one kind of mood. But what are all those leaping fish doing? It’s not immediately clear, but maybe this is some kind of crazy Darwinian bid for survival, or perhaps the artist’s imagining of what a mass fish-jump might look like. She has said that she’s been thinking about birds and fish in motion and cites M.C. Escher as another artist who has juxtaposed the forms of flight and swimming. In this work, Friedman’s interest results in something unusual and stunning, and it makes us laugh as we puzzle it out, one of the reasons for which it was selected for the Summa Collection.
Friedman’s creations in cut-out Tyvek, like this one, grew to embrace entire rooms [see Picture 1], to create environments of their own [see Picture 2] that were both delicate and forceful. Sometimes she set them floating in space, almost like smoke wisps. They always demonstrated her feeling for the power of line, sometimes quite literally [see Picture 3]. They also carry with them a feeling of reminiscence, as almost all of us has had the experience of cutting out a silhouette and recognizing its peculiar intensity. Unfortunately, after just a few years, the artist developed severe tendonitis, her hands and arms too worn by the rigors of the technique and the intricacy it demanded. So she had to abandon this direction in her work in the course of 2016, and Fish out of Water is one of a very small group of works she was able to create in this technique. Fortunately for us, Friedman has always been an accomplished draftsperson (drawing), printmaker, and painter and has returned to using those materials, which require just a little less manual strength and flex.
Friedman lives in Medina and has been a long-time anchor of the arts scene in Northeast Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s degree in interior design before the B.F.A. in studio art at Kent State and then did postgraduate work at Cranbrook and completed the professional M.F.A. degree at the University of Wisconsin with a focus on printmaking and book arts. She teaches (Kent State University, John Carroll, Youngstown State University, University of Akron, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Cuyahoga Community College) and has worked as a curator and a gallery director. Her talent has been recognized with grants from the Ohio Arts Council and with residencies at Culloowhee Mountain Arts (North Carolina), the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., and the Glen Arbor Michigan Artist Residency. She has also served as exhibition juror, lecturer, workshop leader, and guest artist for shows and art organizations throughout Ohio.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
Friedman exhibits vigorously throughout Ohio, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Maryland, California, and Virginia and is widely recognized for her sensitive printmaking, painting, and handmade artist books. When SPACES gallery in Cleveland made the first video in its What’s Up Cleveland series in 2015, Friedman was featured. Critic Douglas Max Utter wrote a poetic appreciation of many of the first cut-out pieces exhibited as Roots and Shadows: the Outlines of Change at the William Busta Gallery in 2013, relevant to the work in the Summa Collection.
You can see her work in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Medina County Library, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and at the Baker-Hostetler Law Firm in Cleveland. Other works are in the collections of the University of California at Irvine, Cal State San Diego, the University of Iowa, the University of Washington, the Hyatt in Jersey City, and the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas. She has recently taken her printmaking in a new direction, printing from natural materials and objects — what she calls “Eco Printing” – to produce cards and wearables in wool, silk, linen and cotton.