Student’s art gallery acts as confession

Senior Julia Bennett discusses 'l’aveu,' her first SPU art show

Manola Secaira | The Falcon
Julia Bennett stands next to her art currently on display in SPU’s Art Center.

When she can’t verbally communicate her emotions to others, senior Julia Bennett turns to her art.

As one of this year’s three photography majors at SPU, Bennett was able to do this through her showcase in the art center titled “l’aveu,” a French phrase that means “the confession.”

On March 30, Bennett showcased “l’aveu” for the first time. Starting from the very first painting, Bennett took audience members on a tour of her private emotions through her art.

Bennett titled her gallery “l’aveu, saying that she has always had a hard time revealing herself to other people. She said her work is a confession to her audience members of who she is and the emotions she has struggled with in the past.

“A lot of artwork is processing emotions and reactions to different events,” Bennett said. “While I lack a lot of words and explaining a lot of different reasons for my emotions, my art is my passion. It’s my most vulnerable place.”

Bennett also said that “l’aveu” is the biggest showcase she has had to date.

“When I was in London, I had a few smaller exhibitions, but they were all on the smaller scale, so this is definitely the largest,” she said.

In June 2016, Bennett began creating “l’aveu” when she was inspired to paint a piece in honor of her late friend, Paul Lee, who was shot and killed by Aaron Ybarra during the June 5 shooting of 2014.

On the two year anniversary of Lee’s death, Bennett got right to work. When she added the painting to her gallery, she called it “number 3” solely because it was the third painting presented in her gallery. She never created a title for the meaningful piece.

“It kind of triggered the rest of the paintings,” she said. “That was like the first painting I did that was a response to a very emotional act.”

Each painting is made with acrylics and oils, mediums dating back to the 1930s. The paintings in her collection are moody abstracts with subdued colors, each about the size of a dinner table that hang from the art center’s ceiling. Videos she took were projected over the paints on a constant loop.

Manola Secaira | The Falcon
Bennett’s exhibit begins with a series of photos.

But while she has a fond attachment to the brush and canvas, Bennett’s real passion is photography. She was led to realize the love she has for it after studying photography in London and working for a photographer in her hometown, Redlands, California over the summer.

She bought the camera that she currently works with only one year ago, a Canon 5D III.

Bennett is inspired to continue pursuing her passion because of her number one role model, Nan Goldin, a photographer who was born in the 1950s.  

“She documented the life around her in a very intimate way,” Bennett said of her role model. “In the same respect, I document the things around me, like myself — being a woman and the issues that arise from just that.”

Bennett also talks highly of another inspiration in her life who has been by her side throughout the process of creating “l’aveu.”

“One of my great friends, Martin Medina, has just been really inspiring and supportive — probably the most supportive person I’ve ever had in my life,” she said.

Medina, a fourth-year student studying General Arts with a concentration in Psychology, says that he and Bennett would only have friendly moments in passing in their early years with SPU’s art programs. Their friendship was later solidified when they shared work spaces in SPU’s Senior Art Studio and when they began exploring local coffee shops together.

Medina confirms that the inspiration he gives to Bennett is reciprocated.

“The associations evoked from studying her creative process and the nature of her studio space have been equally valuable to me as a friend, critic and colleague,” he said.

Medina says that audience members do not need to know Bennett in order to feel her presence within her artwork.

“The ability to stand amidst her paintings and feel as if we were still literally standing with Julia in the room is common because her working process carries a degree of synthesis most young artists have not yet developed.”

Along with Medina is Samuel Filby, another close colleague of Bennet’s. As a graduate student, he sees supporting Bennett during the creation of “l’aveu” as an artistic process.

“Julia is an artist [who] explores aesthetic mediums with serious ambition,” Filby said. “Supporting her is largely telling her what is working with her pieces and why it works, rather than just telling her it is good or beautiful.”

Bennett says that she hopes she effectively empowers the people around her through her work as an artist.

Manola Secaira | The Falcon
The abstract’s in Bennett’s gallery are large and hung from the ceiling, each about the size of a dinner table.

As Bennett’s photography was showcased in her gallery along with paintings, one picture in particular tends to stand out.

To the right of the gallery’s titlecard, the eyes of the audience will see a photo of a naked woman sitting in child’s pose — a position Bennett calls “fragile” and “lifeless.” The woman in the shot is hiding her face but is actually Bennett herself.

This is not the first time Bennett has used this position in her photography. She claims that in the past she has had other women do it as well.

“Subconsciously, I’ll have them go to this position, and I think it’s because it’s almost like this stereotypically submissive position in a way,” she said.   

Bennett said her tendency to have women pose this way is based on her persistence to prove to her audience members that rape culture is still very prevalent in America, a topic she feels a strong urge to address.

After working for only 40 minutes on the self-portrait, Bennett claims that she left her studio feeling frustrated. However, when she later looked through the shots taken, she was shocked.

“I realized that they were exactly what I needed — especially this one. It really finalized the series.”

Before she displayed the photograph, she titled it, “the solitude offered little consolation.”

While Bennett’s showcase was well deserved, she faced the struggle of advertising her vulnerability. She describes the emotions she felt on opening night:

“After the show, I actually was really relieved,” she said. “It was pretty surreal how much I could breathe again.”

When asked whether she was disappointed that she had to take her gallery down last week, Bennett said she felt at peace.

“I think it served its purpose for the time it was there,” she said.

Bennett’s journey is not over yet, and she plans to continue showing her work around Seattle and potentially other cities, thinking about possibly showing “l’aveu” again as well.

“A lot of people have actually asked me about prices, so I’ll probably sell a few,” she said. “The rest I’ll probably just end up putting into storage just in case I have another opportunity to have an exhibition about it.”

Post-graduation, Bennett plans to stay in Seattle. However, she hopes that can make it in other artistic urban hubs, like New York.

“I kind of don’t want to end up anywhere,” she said. “I just want to keep moving.”

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