The BankRI Galleries present:
BankRI Turks Head Gallery: “Emotional Reflections: Paintings by Judy Volkmann,” March 3 through April 6, 2016 at the BankRI Turks Head branch in downtown Providence at One Turks Head Place.. There will be a Gallery Night reception on March 17 from 5 to 8:30 pm with live music by guitarist Mark Armstrong and light refreshments. Exhibit hours are Monday through Wednesday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact www.bankri.com or call 401 574-1330.
MEET THE ARTIST – JUDY VOLKMANN
Confrontational, emotive, sculptural, explosive – these words accurately describe the paintings of Judy Volkmann. Larger than life, bleeding with color, the portraits depict raw emotions and are not meant to represent specific people.
That these powerhouse paintings come from a petite and optimistic brown-haired 48-year old woman who lives off of Hope Street in Providence takes some explanation.
Born and brought up in Fall River, Massachusetts, Volkmann was one of 8 children raised by a single mom. Her father died when she was in the third grade of complications from alcoholism. Her mother was a strong woman, but the facts were undeniable – they lived in the projects and they were poor. At 17, a junior in high school, Volkmann became pregnant and had a baby daughter. It was time for her to grow up and make adult decisions about her future.
Volkmann moved out of her family home, found an apartment and went on public assistance. She finished high school with the goal of going to college so she could better herself and support her daughter. In 1985, she enrolled in Bristol Community College where she met her future husband Steve Volkmann.
“I choose art as a career because I was good at it,” Volkmann says. “I loved to illustrate and I love art education. I choose to work in both those areas because I needed to support my daughter.
After graduating from BCC, she attended the Swain School of Design, now the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where she earned dual degrees in art education and painting. She was chosen for a prestigious 10-week fellowship to attend the Yale Summer School of Music and Art. For the girl from the projects, this was a huge honor and a boost to her self-confidence.
After graduation, it didn’t take Volkmann long to find a job teaching art at St. Mary’s Academy Bay View and then Dartmouth High School. With characteristic straightforward courage, Volkmann had achieved her goals. She had a home, a family, and a career, but something was missing. “I needed change,” Volkmann says. “I needed to pursue my art again. So we sold the cars, sold the house, took the plunge and moved to New York City.”
Steve found a job teaching science at the Little Red School House in the Village. Volkmann found a studio in Queens and a job teaching at an independent school on the upper east side. Together they navigated a life in the city, balancing their creative careers and their teaching positions. Several years ago, Steve began to lose his eyesight and is now legally blind.
“The city wasn’t the place for us anymore,” Volkmann explains, so they moved back to Rhode Island to a home they had bought a few years earlier, their “country” home on a tree-lined street in Providence.
In the front room is Volkmann’s studio, a small clean room with huge canvases. In the living room, Steve plays bass and composes music. They have both embraced their new life, free to experiment and try new ways of painting and making music.
“My paintings are mirrored reflections of my emotions,” Volkmann says. She works with images of people and strong ideas about feelings and emotions. A viewer doesn’t really need the painting titles to understand the intent. “Still” depicts a woman looking inward, almost asleep. Painted mostly in rich blues accented with soft reds and lavenders, the piece is contemplative and reassuring, quietly intense. “Beyond” is also a woman’s face, but this time the eyes are open and challenging. The palette is similar, blues and reds, but there is nothing quiet or contemplative about this painting. Every bit of color and line confronts the viewer, daring them to come a little closer.
“Why am I doing this? It’s my connection to myself,” Volkmann says. “Sometimes, you have no choice. Change is going to happen.”
The BankRI Galleries are curated by Paula Martiesian, a Providence-based artist and arts advocate.