Artist begins her second act by going back to school

Julia Hamilton is going back to school to learn how to become a better artist.

Considering Hamilton's busy summer — a duo show at Sean Christopher Gallery in the Short North, a solo show at The Table a few blocks away and pieces recently selected for the Ohio State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition and the OhioGovernor'sOffice andResidence ArtworkLoan Program — one might wonder, “Why bother with art school?”

But for Hamilton, who's worked in information technology for the past 30 years, pursuing her master of fine arts degree at CCAD makes perfect sense.

“When I wanted to go into IT and I wanted to be good at that, I went to school and got a degree,” Hamilton said in an interview at Sean Christopher Gallery. “If I want to be the best artist I can, it makes sense to go to school. I love CCAD. I've done the Saturday morning art lessons there and loved it. I'm so proud they accepted me into their MFA program.”

By making art her “second career,” Hamilton is acknowledging a lifelong passion for making. Discouraged when she was in high school from pursuing art as a career, Hamilton, seeing a growing market for computer programmers, “fell into that and did really well.”

“[But] I've always made art, drawing or painting, and often because I needed it,” she said. “Art has always been like therapy. I'm much happier when I'm getting my daily art. It's sort of like meditation.”

Hamilton also noted the less-obvious parallels between her work as a business analyst and making art. “There is creativity in IT. As a business analyst, I need to work with people in coming up with a solution to a problem. There is definitely creativity involved in solving any problem,” she said, adding that she often views a blank canvas as a problem waiting to be solved.

About 10 years ago, Hamilton began working in increasing earnest on her art, making ink pointillism works in her spare bedroom, “just doing artwork to do artwork.” Five years ago, Hamilton began experimenting with techniques that would come to comprise her current style.

A multi-disciplinary artist, Hamilton creates layered mixed-media work in traditional mediums as well as digital work drawn freehand on her iPad. She said that, while she does not mix digital and traditional work, the two techniques do inform and support each other. Her non-digital materials include clay and aluminum boards, alcohol ink, colored pencils, air brush, pastels and fire.

“I start with alcohol inks where I sort of slosh the ink on the board. While it's wet, I light it on fire. It flames up and burns out in less than a minute. … I have a fire extinguisher next to me in case things go wrong, but I haven't had to use it yet,” she said with a smile. “[The process] creates a texture and it also moves and blends the inks. You have to work with what you get … after the burn.”

Resultant layers are inspired by science and nature, everything from biology to astronomy. “Free Fall,” for example, depicts earth from the perspective of a falling rain drop. “Pale Blue Dot” is inspired by a photo taken by the Voyager spacecraft. Hamilton called her work “abstract [art] that represents without depicting.”

Her more recent work is inspired by her emerging understanding of synesthesia, a crossing of the senses that manifests differently for different people. For Hamilton, it means she sees every number and letter in an associated color. She can recall experiences with the phenomenon from a young age, although she had little understanding of it. It wasn't until she was in her 20s that she realized not everyone saw things this way.

“When I was really young and was learning to write my name, my mom was trying to teach me how to write a capital ‘H' [Hamilton's maiden name also began with that letter], but I didn't want my name to start with an ‘H' because ‘H' is brown. … It's the only brown letter,” she said.

Hamilton's piece at the State Fair is a more recent work exploring this phenomenon, and will be part of a larger exhibition planned for 2018.

Meantime, “Common Ground,” her two-person show at Sean Christopher with friend Abiola Idowu, continues through Aug. 26, and includes a reception during the Aug. 5 Short North Gallery Hop. Hamilton and Idowu, a Nigeria-born painter and sculptor, met while each maintained studio space at 400 West Rich.

“We saw each other's work in the hallways and noticed that we each worked in intricate details and bright colors, even though our subjects are different,” Hamilton said.

“Most of my inspiration derives from women, from my wanting to preach respect for them, because the world would not be as colorful without them,” Idowu said. An artist from a young age, Idowu also finds beauty amid the political challenges that face his home country, his images also celebrating the “warm reception” he has felt since moving to the U.S. His work in “Common Ground” reflects “my past experiences and present situation,” he said.