Whenever it rained, I would happily run to get my coloring book and crayons, as a child. The pleasure of making colors bounce off each other, and create a beautiful picture, was my delight. As an adult, colors remain an important part of my paintings. However, along with color I now understand there is a narrative part to my paintings. It started with just wanting to see images that looked like me, than, the history, the culture, memories, spirituality of those images followed. I paint as I have professionally danced, to be in an atmosphere of focus and concentration, an altered state, where I can create a world to share."
I was born and grew up in Manhattan as Geri Seignious - I evolved into Juliet later. To be exact, I grew up in Harlem, the place where I witnessed Malcolm X enlightening the crowds on street corners; Adam Clayton Powell preaching in Abyssinian Baptist church, doctors and porters living in the same buildings, children playing a dizzying array of street games and people sitting on fire escapes to catch a breeze in summertime. It was here, in this time and place, that I acquired my passion for art. This was particularly cultivated on rainy days - the “inside days” with paper, pencils, crayons and the expectation of creation as well as transformation.
Having two passions as a child, painting and dance, I elected to take both in Junior High School. It was then that I realized exactly how much I loved them. Although I was accepted into the High School of Music and Art, I decided to attend the High School of Performing Arts (of Fame fame). After graduating, I became one of the founding members of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and it was here that my interest in African American history was peaked. Working with Alvin was an extremely moving and visual experience. And being in the middle of a black company, talking about black heritage at the high-point of African American political and cultural awareness was amazing and significant, on so many levels. In this context, I first thought of expressing thoughts, emotions and history in paintings.
After a long career in dance (with Alvin as well as across Broadway, Hollywood and several countries abroad) in 1990 I became inspired and, more than a little, obsessed with painting. At this time, I had taken a trip to Edisto Island, South Carolina - a small island near Charleston, South Carolina where my parents were from. The Island was interesting because it was one of the first places where African-Americans arrived in the United States and it was always insulated from the rest of the country, retaining numerous vestiges of its unique history in language, architecture, food and beliefs. Initially, I had gone to Edisto to learn about and feel a connection with my heritage, which was held from me because my parents never spoke about the place where they were born nor African American history in general. While on the trip, I engaged in conversations with a wide variety of individuals that were either family members or that had intersected with the family in some way (e.g., legal officials, archivists, activists, and church-goers). The trip also involved site visits as well as some archival work: looking through pictures of relatives - alive and long passed, legal documents about slavery and property as well as several detailed personal diaries.
This process was in many ways overwhelming. At once, I felt connected to all of the information, while at the same time distant from it. Through art, however, I found my connection to my heritage and a modality in which to share it with others. Through my paintings, I document, explore and commune. Essentially, my work is an explosive assemblage of styles and techniques but they are largely figurative in nature with elements of abstraction. Within any one piece you might find painted portraits, photos, historical documents, cheesecloth, shells, oils, acrylics, varnish as well as pastels usually on my signature background of tarpaper. Self taught, one clearly sees the influence of numerous artists: Romare Bearden, Van Gogh, Matisse and Jackson Pollack.
My Journey series emerged from a very specific moment and in a very specific space. One night on my trip to Edisto, I saw these long figures in the distance (shrouded by shade and overhanging foliage). The figures were moving away from me and towards some location in the distance. It was not clear where they were going, but it was clear that they were going there together. In this moment, I heard the following, which emerged (at once) in me and around me:
Sometimes the journey is taken alone and it appears endless. At other times, the journey is traveled with others and it is short-lived. Traveling by land, sea, sky or in the mind, the journey has many faces and goes many places. Sometimes the journey is a struggle. Sometimes, one does not want to go any further; but, rather, wish to rest and stay put. Regardless of one's intentions, the journey pushes one forward and soon they discover an endless array of experiences and openings. This series attempts to capture the essence of this experience"
"Visiting Edisto Island in South Carolina was a pivotal experience for me. In a church that I visited, there were all of these beautiful black faces sitting around me. I was struck by the color of the people in part because of the wide variety of hues and shapes. In part, I was also struck by the juxtaposition between the individuals that sat around me and the colors of the people displayed on the altar and in the stain glass windows surrounding everyone. In these locales were figures of saints that were of a hue different from those faces in the church. I sat there puzzled at the situation, wondering why there were no black religious icons in the church. At that moment, I realized that paintings of religious beings, emerges from the imagination grounded in the human mind and in the human experience. As such, whatever limitations existed in humankind would also be carried over into art itself I was moved to paint angels of "liberation, and represented figures that were of another world and were of African descent. I wanted to let my imagination take flight into the world of the spiritual Of course, I later realized that my creations were a reflection of what I am. By painting black angels, I was at once challenging stereotypes and cultural products and replacing them with another. Thus, once again, I recall the three matrices discussed by Sartre in 1956: the dimension of seeing, the dimension of being seen and the dimension of being conscious of being seen by others".
"An Odyssey of Whispers"
I seek to explore the interconnection between abstraction and concreteness within the genre of African American story telling and historical reconstruction.
1973 - 1975 Art Students League (Howard Sandon)
1976 - 1981 River Cultural Center of the Arts (Joseph Parenti)
1982- Present Self Taught
2005 Pounder - Kone Artspace Group Show
2004 lona Gallery "Spirits Among Us" Savannah, Georgia. Solo Show
2003 Danny Simmons Corridor Gallery Brooklyn, New York "Sankofa" Group Show
2003 Serendipity Glen Ridge, New Jersey Journey Solo
2003 Inter Visionary Gallery Washington, DC "Dance" Group Show
2003 Northern Westchester Center for the Arts Mount Kisco, New York Black Hair Group Show
2002 Danny Simmons Corridor Gallery Brooklyn, New York Group Show
2002 Graham Gallery Washington, DC Solo Show
2002-2001 Satta Gallery Brooklyn, New York Solo Show
2001 Danny Simmons Corridor Gallery Brooklyn, New York Group Show
2001 Art Center Gallery New Milford, New Jersey Black History Celebration Group Show
2001 Northern Westchester Center for the Arts Mount Kisco, New York Faces Group Show
2001 Graham Gallery Washington, DC Christmas in October Group Show
1998 Akente Express Gallery Denver, Colorado Solo Show
1998 Black Heritage Western Museum Denver, Colorado Solo Show
1998 Black Heritage Gallery Houston, Texas Solo Show
1997 The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Texas Call and Response Group Show
1997 Barnes/Blackman Gallery Houston, Texas Black & White Relations Group Show
1997 Bertice Berry Commissioned Mural San Diego, California
1996 Black History Group Show Barrett House Gallery Poughkeepsie, New York
1996 Solo Show 'Struggle, Strength,and Survival' Winslow Gallery Poughkeepsie, New York
1995 Solo Show Gloria Marcus Gallery Stamford, Connecticut Paintings
1995 Solo Show Arts Gallery Minneapolis, Minnesota Paintings
1994 Solo Show Millbrook Arts Center Millbrook, New York Paintings
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