Winner, 2005 Western Books Exhibition, Rounce Coffin Club, 2005
Julie Speed's meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail bring to mind the work of painters from the fifteenth and sixteenth century Renaissance. Unlike those artists, however, Speed is inspired by an almost limitless number of easily available sources and is unencumbered by the sexual and societal restrictions of past centuries, which gives her the freedom to paint what she wants and the way she wants. This places her body of work squarely in the present. Utilizing her keen sense of the absurd, Speed ponders the big questions-the role of religion, isolation and longing, sexuality, sin and guilt-with a sly, sometimes black, sense of humor and a steadfast refusal to offer the viewer any tidy resolutions. It is the emphatically open-ended and omnivorous nature of her work, combining anxiety, erotica, and violence with the subversive power of beauty, that puts Speed in the vanguard of a return to figurative painting in contemporary art.
To bring Speed's mysterious and compelling work to a wider audience, this beautifully illustrated volume presents one hundred color plates of her oil paintings, constructions and works on paper. Accompanying the plates are essays by art historians Elizabeth Ferrer and Edmund Pillsbury that discuss Speed's relationship to generations of figurative painters, from the artists of the Renaissance to the present, as well as her affinities with and differences from the surrealists, dadaists, and other historical movements. Rounding out the volume are fascinating excerpts from the "Books of Conversation," a series of public journals initiated by the Austin Museum of Art in connection with a touring survey of Speed's work, in which museum-goers wrote down their ideas, opinions, and questions for the artist, to which she provided written answers.