Featured Artist: Julie Liger-Belair

Featured Artist: Julie Liger-Belair

Lead digital editor Brenna Lilly spoke with artist Julie Liger-Belair about sacred art, household altars, and the “muscle” of creativity.

S+H: The contrast in your assemblage pieces and collages is stunning—you often place nonchalant human subjects in vibrant, surrealist surroundings. How did you develop such a unique style?

Liger-Belair: I have always been fascinated by dreams and surreal worlds evoked in books, films, and artwork from many different cultures and times in history. I think humans have always been drawn to the realm of the “implausible” because it is so easily glimpsed in our own “real” world. From microscopic views of cells to photographs of our solar system, these strange worlds are tangible and are not just to be found in dreams.

How do you balance your artistic practice with your “everyday” life? Is there a line between the two?

My “everyday” life IS my art practice! Now that my kids are all in school and more independent, I am able to work full-time on my art. That certainly was not the case when they were little, and it was definitely a struggle to be able to find time to create. I’m very thankful that I can now be a full-time artist and work regular “office hours” in my garage studio at the back of my garden.

But I guess my creative life also extends into my home life, too, as all three of my kids are amazing makers and artists in their own right and are often joining me in the studio during “off-work” hours to collaborate on various projects. I’m really lucky to be surrounded with creativity this way—it feeds my fire and propels me forward.

There’s an ethereal, curious quality to your pieces—I can see your fascination with dreams. How do you work with the sacred (and its balance with the mundane) in your art?

It seems that humans like to think of the world in dichotomies; good and evil, sacred and mundane, happiness and sadness, but of course the lines between all these things don’t really exist or are blurry at best. I started my art career fascinated by the religious symbolism found in European artwork and enjoyed playing with these symbols and ideas in the contexts of everyday objects (ex. little altars to saints, gods, and goddesses made with sardine tins). This has changed over the years to looking at the dualities between inner/private life and outer/public life and how these could also be viewed in this context, the inner world being sacred and the public persona being mundane and how ambivalent we are to draw a line between the two.

You mention those little altarpieces—do you also incorporate altars and/or sacred spaces into your daily life?

I really feel that my studio and home are my sacred spaces. They are both filled with my kids’ art and other artists’ work as well as all my favorite colors. I’m a collector of all kinds of things: tin toys, natural elements (shells, rocks, fossils, etc.), ceramics, and colorful fabrics, and all these things are arranged around my house (little altars, if you will) where they delight me daily and constantly inspire the imagery that pops up in my pieces.

What influence does nature have on your work as an artist? Your collages feel very organic and grounded.

Nature and spending time in it have always been very important to me. I spent all my childhood summers in a small, rented, one-room cabin on a lake. We had no running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing, so my siblings and I spent all our time outdoors exploring and making our own games. I think this was really instrumental in molding my inner creative life. I suppose it is no surprise that elements of landscape, foliage, and fauna find their way into my work.

How does your artistic practice affect your emotional life? Do you use art to process your emotions?

Absolutely! There is really no feeling comparable to immersing myself completely in a work. I lose all track of time and love the feeling of taking a walk along an unknown path to a place that is new but familiar, too. It is very meditative and soothing. Making art is so paramount to my mental wellbeing that I can really feel the emotional change in me when I’ve been out of the studio for too long.

What advice would you offer to readers who feel called to artistic practice but don’t know where to start?

I feel like whatever someone’s artistic interest is, they need to do it every day, even if it is just for 15 minutes. Creativity is like a muscle that needs constant priming and exercise to stay fit and well “oiled.” I do this myself by “playing” daily in my sketchbook, even when on vacation. It is important for me at these moments to not think at all, grab whatever materials are on hand (I often use the paper scraps laying on my desk from the previous day), and just start drawing, collaging, or mark-making in my sketchbook. The outcome doesn’t matter at all, just the act of play is important.

We too often lose this spontaneous form of creativity when we grow up. That is one of many things I have learned from being a parent and making art with my kids: their ability to fully immerse and enjoy the process of making.

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Featured Artist Julie Liger Belair

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