– by Kyle Kirves
for the Longmont Council for the Arts
Art Enthusiast Magazine
It’s easy for the mind’s eye to conjure an image of a child, legs akimbo, head down, gazing intently at an open book. Maybe the level of exactitude in the details varies, some highly realistic, others as if seen through a slightly distorted piece of glass. Dreamlike and fluid, this single moment is worthy of capturing on canvas.
And if Julie Petro were to paint that mind’s image, it might be called Self-portrait as a Young Girl.
Petro, an artist working in oil paint and residing in south Longmont, has gravitated to the impressionist school of art since she was a child. “I remember seeing John Singer Sargent’s Fumée de Amber Gris in one of my mother’s art books when I was really young,” she says. “And that picture just kind of stayed there. The details of how he painted her hands. How her face – barely visible under the hood – was rendered with what seemed to be just a few perfectly placed brush strokes. It’s a fascinating study of a person, especially since every detail isn’t clearly defined.”
Indeed, that early exposure manifests itself in Petro’s own work, culled from the traditions of the impressionism. Citing that genre’s ability to evoke energy and movement, Petro enjoys creating work that communicates a mood, personality, and fluidity via its focus on subjects captured in motion, or in a moment, rather than “details” in the strictest sense.
“It’s an invitation,” Petro says. “The person who looks at one of my paintings is invited in. You’re invited to slow things down, read into that moment and find perhaps even find things that maybe aren’t readily apparent.”
That principle of moments makes Petro very open in terms of subject matter as well, finding inspiration in any number of sources. “I might be drawn to something as simple as a color in any given scene. Or a shape. Or edges or texture. And sometimes it’s an observed moment in a life. A snapshot of sorts.”
Snapshots play a key role in Petro’s technique, too. She frequently carries a camera to capture moments from everyday life. Then, with these pictures in hand, she goes through an exercise of creating thumbnail sketches, playing and modifying the content and composition until the balance seems right and the “story” is there. She considers the angles of light and how that affects the image as a whole. Only then does she work up the idea as an compositional and value study on canvas and then scale up to the new piece. It’s a practice that has brought her much success and that she places her faith in.
Petro says, “There’s no substitute for good preparation. Laying the groundwork, putting the foundation down and building a solid structure is invaluable. It can take up a majority of the time spent on a painting.” Then, half-laughing,“Proper preparation before the paint comes out is key. It doesn’t matter whether you’re painting a canvas or your kitchen. Once the prep work is solid, the painting sort of paints itself.”
Her gallery of work is substantial, impressive, and varied. Beautiful painted flowers, commissioned portraiture, and smaller scale still-lifes find homes within her portfolio of work. But it is her magnificent paintings of dancers that perhaps best showcase her ability to render grace and movement frozen in a single instant, or as the artist herself calls it “a moment of quiet concentration.” All of it, though, is of a piece and is easily recognized as a Julie Petro.