By Margaret Langton, The Burlington Spectator, December 14, 1993.
Made-in Burlington art will bring a smile to thousands of Halton homes this seasom.
That art takes the form of a huggable child , on a special Christmas card being sold by the Halton branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Artist, Julie Donec captured the quintessential Canadian child’s winter – red snowsuit so real you can almost smell the sweaty-outdoorsy blend, tongue curled up in anticipation so endearing you almost wish your own were that age again.
The model is Julie’s four-year-old niece, the same Burlington youngster seen in the background of the artist’s work on the fence surrounding La Salle Park pavilion.
“The world that kids make is connected to magic,” says Julie.
“It’s the first time they’re experiencing many things…so you get the fresh impressions and logic of a child’s mind.”
She spent four months on the egg tempera design, underpainting the whole with orange and blue and repeating the red snowsuit obliquely with fain red wash on the snow.
“There were a lot of technical difficulties with the piece,” the artist says in an interview at the Greer Gallery, where the original hangs.
But her final satisfaction with the project is clear. She’s pleased with the delicacy of tone and color and the moment captured with a painterly feel.
A buyer who paid $2,000 for the original obviously agrees – as does Pearl Wolfe, executive director of the Halton CMHA.
“We chose her (to design the card) because she does such nice things with children,” explains Pearl.
“That’s what Christmas is all about.”
What Julie is all about is the fine art of working three different day jobs to subsidize her painting.
A licensed massage therapist, she also fits in office work at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital and teaching with the Halton Roman Catholic School Board.
Julie took post-secondary art studies at Emily Carr College in British Columbia, then did scholarship work in Florence, Italy, and took still more classes at McMaster University. But she still touches base with her high school art teacher.
Paul Hryskiw of M.M. Robinson High School follows Julie’s progress with unsentimental support.
“My real training was here,” the 35-year-old says on a visit to the school, which still maintains her grade 13 mural in the staff lunch room.
That training enhanced her talent with skills which take surprising turns from realism to abstract expressionism in many media.
On the Guelph Line gallery wall next to her snowsuit original is a much larger work, of three Lippizaner stallions frozen in the heat of performance.
The dramatic acrylic horseflesh seems a huge departure to Donec followers who associate her with smaller people portraits.
But both pieces involved drafting, Julie points out.
“It’s not a big leap for me but it is for the public.”
A series of corporate-sized works may be in the offing, even though that scale is difficult to sell.
Julie refuses to limit her thinking that way, because” you only get to do this once.
“What you do today, even three years down the road can be very important.”
Since her first show in 1985 in British Columbia, Julie has created a body of work spanning the distance from Norman Rockwell-like comfort to the intrigue of exotic 16th-century figure in the formal gardens reminiscent of Versailles.
Passion verus intellect is a theme she enjoys exploring, based on the conviction that we tend to igmnore our feelings.
Religion may dominate Julie’s next show, she hints, telling of ideas about angels and devils, icons and a wish to work in egg tempera with gold leaf.
Her last solo show was at the Planetree Gallery in 1990 – relocated and renamed the Greer Gallery.
She returns to the Burlingnton Art Centre’s auction in February, one of a number of area fund-raising auctions where Donec is a respected name.