Columbus artist explores the intersection of art-making and life in general
Danielle Julian Norton is the mud lady, and not just because there's an image in her latest exhibition of the artist made up in mud.
Nor is Julian Norton the mud lady solely because there are other pieces in “Double Yellow Line,” on view through Feb. 16 at Angela Meleca Gallery, in which mud is prominently featured — in one case in the form of a giant pile of mud inside a wooden enclosure, and in another case in hand-made brick form as part of a larger sculpture.
Those are some of the reasons, but not all. The artist has become something of an expert (relatively speaking) on mud in the past year or so, since she purchased a tract of land in Southeastern Ohio.
“I originally made a bunch of bricks for a huge chimney for a show in Cincinnati,” Julian Norton said. “The mud is from the land in Southern Ohio. I dug up my parents' backyard in Central Ohio, but Southern Ohio mud is almost completely clay with sandstone, so it's almost immediately ready to use. You can make anything with it.”
So when Julian Norton talks about learning to live off of the land, she means it literally.
Her retreat to the chunk of land in Southeastern Ohio didn't come about organically, though. Julian Norton needed to get a handle on her life. “I was just feeling out of control, so how do you take control of what you can? You can control your immediate surroundings [by] caretaking, healing,” she said. “Those things seemed to be the best immediate solution.”
And with that, Julian Norton began educating herself on things like construction and natural foods. “It's been a year of slowly getting outside and detaching from virtual reality and just being present. There are so many resources on the land – ginseng, sassafras, pawpaws, mushrooms. It opened up a whole different way of thinking about things,” Julian Norton said. “Of course, it's not new. This is already happening, people living off the land and off the grid. But there is real empowerment in learning how to build for yourself and grow food. How to acquire land and build your own structures and create your own space seems like an important thing to do. It's also a lot of fun.”
Because Julian Norton's practice as a sculptor and ceramicist has always involved the intersection of art and living, these new skills and understandings necessarily impacted her work. Witness “Stage for a Blank Memory,” a two-story installation that incorporates, among other things, the aforementioned mud pile as well as aquariums with plants repurposed from another exhibition.
“This is both a sculpture and a structure, so it's in a place where those things collide, where living and art and practice all come together as one,” Julian Norton said.
There is also a potential standalone piece within “Stage” that Julian Norton calls “Blue Potato.” It's a sculptural work that references the “Polke Potato Problem,” riffing on an exhibition of work by German artist Sigmar Polke displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The piece included potatoes, which, being natural, would sprout and break down over time. The staff wrestled with the question of if and when to dispose of the rotting tubers.
“I love that fine line, that question of when is something art and when isn't it,” Julian Norton said.
Witness a made-from-scratch laundry basket that caps “Master Basket,” another piece that's part of “Double Yellow Line.” Or “Miss Satan,” a sizable piece with a wood foundation that incorporates, among other found materials, a tube sock.
“My studio is full of objects. That tube sock had been in there for a while. I'm a sculptor but I also use added objects for color and shape,” Julian Norton said. “I love those really mundane objects as material. A laundry basket, earrings my mother made, a pencil, mud, my retainer from high school… .”
Yes, those sundries are all incorporated into this current body of work.