Ann Arbor, Michigan (born) 1958-1963
My mother, Norma, loved beautiful things. She designed our homes like pages from Architectural Digest. My father, Richard, was a renowned chemistry researcher and professor who often traveled for conferences, so my mother was able to collect artwork from all over the world. One of my first memories at age 3 or 4 was of studying up close an abstract painting that Mom had hung low where I could see it. Suddenly I realized I was seeing an arm, a belt--why, it was a man, dancing and spinning! I ran to tell her, but of course she already knew.
Madison, Wisconsin 1964-1973
My sister Beth, two years older than me, was an excellent artist. I remember the day she came home from 2nd grade and showed me a new way to make a nose using an L shape. I was thrilled! During the summer in Wisconsin, art was what we did, along with art classes and swimming. Mom proudly displayed our artwork on a big wall in the kitchen. Perhaps my career began at age 14, when my aunt and uncle, who owned a clay business in Iowa, entered one of my clay sculptures into the Iowa Ceramic Association show and it won First Place in the Professional category.
Austin, Texas 1973-1977, University of Texas at Austin 1976-1977
My family often traveled in the U.S. and Europe because of my father's conferences and awards, and my mother dragged us--I mean took us--to the art museums in every city. Mom became a docent when we moved to Texas, around the time abstract art (the most exciting movement she had witnessed) was becoming well-established, so I grew up literate in the visual language of abstraction. Incredibly, my high school art teacher was Amado M. Pena, Jr., who was soon to become one of the most successful Mexican-American-Indian artists. He gave us students our first exhibit and showed us that you can make a living as an artist.
New York City 1977-1979: Program in the Arts, Barnard College B.A. 1979
Through more good fortune, my parents' move to New York City enabled me to study painting at Barnard College with Milton Resnick. Resnick was a first-generation abstract expressionist, close friends with Willem DeKooning and Jackson Pollock in the formative years. A true inspiration, he taught with no agenda except to help us capture the magic of the paint. He showed me that the painting's illusion of space must hold together cohesively, which is a high ideal I still strive for in every piece.
New York City 1979-1984: Textile Colorist; Gallery Assistant
Salt Lake City, Utah 1984-1985: Salt Lake Art Center; Gallery Assistant Director
After graduating with my B.A. in 1979, I worked as a textile colorist in the garment district of New York City. I thought I knew color, but this job brought color mixing and color harmony to a whole new level, honing skills that I still use every day in my studio. Later jobs gave me experience working in a Soho gallery (I remember Jean-Michel Basquiat's graffiti), the Salt Lake Art Center, and a contemporary gallery in Salt Lake City. I had moved to Utah craving the beauty of the southwest. Through the gallery I got to know Lee Deffebach, a significant abstract expressionist who had studied with Vaclav Vytlacil in New York City during the 1950s, and other artists whose fascinating and innovative work made it clear to me that my own art was not yet potent. I decided to pursue my M.F.A.
Santa Monica and Los Angeles, California 1986-1991: J. Paul Getty Museum; University of California Los Angeles M.F.A. Art 1989; Getty Art History Information Program
I moved to Los Angeles and worked at the Getty Museum (registrar's office) and the Getty Art History Information Program (Authority Analyst) while pursuing my graduate degree in Art at the University of California, Los Angeles. I did not get accepted into the elite painting program, so instead I enrolled in Fiber, where I was still able to work with all the painting instructors. As it turned out, the UCLA Fiber program was one of the most highly respected in the world, and was fortuitously helpful for my work. My approach to painting was actually more closely related to fiber art than to conceptual or traditional art. Mine is an art of materials. Honoring the nature of the paint itself is my jumping-off point into beauty, expression and meaning.
Indiana, Pennsylvania 1991-2014; Exhibiting and Teaching 2002-on
After receiving my M.F.A. in 1989 and getting married in 1990, I moved with my husband to Indiana, Pennsylvania, for his graduate studies. Two children and a 17-employee business later, I re-emerged into my art life in 2002. Soon I became involved in the Indiana Art Association, exhibiting locally, taking workshops, and beginning to win awards. In 2003 I started teaching community art classes through the Continuing Education department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and other venues. For a couple years I focused on abstract landscapes, not yet sure how to consistently create depth and drama through pure abstraction.
Committing to Abstraction 2006
My turning point as an abstract artist came in 2006, when I won a Purchase Award from the Greater Latrobe School District Special Collection, which is selected by the students. I was aware that people loved my abstracts as much as my landscapes, but this was a wake-up call. Not only did real, regular high-school kids pick my abstract painting over my realistic ones, but this was the first abstract painting they had picked for their collection since the 1960s. In the meantime, I had discovered how to create deep space in abstract paintings. I finally decided to throw myself behind my belief that abstract painting is my gift. Mine are the abstracts that don't need theories to explain themselves to people's hearts.
Latex and Acrylic 2008
In 2008, I switched mediums from oil to acrylic and interior latex wall paint, searching for the speed and fluidity that I needed to make freer paintings. I had participated in a Lenape Indian story-pole project at our nearby Thunder Mountain tribal grounds, where I was charged with the task of selecting the latex paint for all of the artists to use. I fell in love with the colors and fluidity, and soon was hooked.
My technique of layering poured latex with acrylic brushwork and conte crayon continued to evolve, as did my studio into ever larger portions of our home. I began to stretch and pour paintings on a large table in the basement, then bring them up to my "easel studio" for brushwork, where I could enjoy views of woods and wildlife.
Journal Titles 2010
By 2010, I realized that I had been keeping my artwork at arm's length, and needed to integrate my spiritual quest into my artistic one. I began using phrases from my journal for titles. By starting with the title, I noticed that my artwork became the embodiment of my spiritual life. I could feel my love for divine beauty guiding my work, and, in turn, vibrating through the color and intention of my paintings. I believe this is what rings true within the souls of those who love my artwork. Color, texture and light are healing, right-brain nourishment that I need in my life and imbibe through my art, and perhaps people who are attracted to my artwork feel the same way.
Museum Show 2013
I was honored to be featured in a solo show, Julie Bernstein Engelmann: Being Spirit, at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art (SAMA) in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Jan-Apr 2013. This was the realization of a lifelong dream to have a museum retrospective, and the installation was breathtaking. Pictures don't adequately convey the experience of "swimming" in the vibrations of all of those paintings, but please take a Photo Tour of the show.
Lake Montezuma, Arizona 2014
Having moved so often early in my life, after 23 years in Pennsylvania I craved change. The pink and beige vistas and petroglyphs of the southwest were calling me. In August 2014 we moved to Lake Montezuma, Arizona, a small town near beautiful Sedona, where I am thrilled to find out how my artwork and art life will grow.
Thank you for your interest in my art story, and for your love of beauty!
Julie Bernstein Engelmann
May 2013, updated Oct 2015
Abstract Painting Spirit, a 9-minute video showing my painting process
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