Painting is my primary medium, though ceramics are often the substrate. It’s an inversion of historical Greek pottery, where the form of the piece was the most important, and the painting on its surface mere decoration.
Since 2000, I spend half of my studio year illustrating final meal requests of death row inmates in an ongoing project titled The Last Supper. To date, The Last Supper consists of 900 cobalt blue on white, ceramic kiln-fired plates. Fearing that the emotional weight of The Last Supper would bleed into the rest of my practice, for years I resisted using dishware and the color blue in other projects. Then I made An Embarrassment of Dishes, for which I painted personal anecdotes in blue pigment on dishware inherited from my grandmother, and My New Blue Friends, a series of blue monochromatic paintings created by airbrushing egg tempera on wood panels.
Thinking about wrongful convictions, DNA testing and fingerprinting, and how we access an iPhone with a thumbprint, I developed an idée fixe. I began making facsimiles of fingerprints found online. A recent Google image search ranking for famous fingerprints shows: 1. Walt Disney, 2. Ted Bundy, 3. Malcolm X, 4. Richard Nixon. I was stymied by the absence of women. Search results for “fingerprints of women” proved nearly identical to my initial prompt: the first identified woman, Rosa Parks, appeared in 120th place. In response, I put out a call for fingerprints of creative women and began the Fashion Plate series.
Women’s experiences depicted in Fashion Plate provides balance. The Last Supper necessarily prioritizes male experience because men are almost exclusively subjects of capital punishment in the U.S. Focusing on content related to domesticity, identity, security and bias, Fashion Plate combines precious and humble material including acrylic, rare pigment, 22K gold, platinum, and glow-in-the-dark paint on Chinet paper plates. Each is signed verso with a backstamp of a women’s fingerprint.
In 2018, I began First Meal, a series of paintings about wrongful convictions that grew out of relationships developed at The Block Museum and The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University. Each depicts a first meal eaten by an individual following release from wrongful conviction. Naively, I thought these paintings would be more uplifting to create than The Last Supper. Of course the meal is celebratory, but is nothing compared to the lost years. The stories that underlie the paintings point to flaws in our legal system. First Meal paintings are roughly flag-sized. I think of flags generally being something we are proud of, something to hold up, something to wave, but First Meal flags point to flaws in our legal system. They are pennants of loss.
Proceeds from First Meal are shared with the organization that supported release of the wrongfully convicted person.
Julie Green 2020
Inquires: Upfor Gallery