Poetic Science Fiction

by Mira Dayal

You will find Julia Westerbeke’s art in a realm where National Geographic, Fantastic Planet, The Botany Coloring Book, and White Noise coalesce. She is inspired by nature–or rather, the intrusions of human creations into nature. Industrial tubes collecting maple from trees and chain link fences absorbed into bark formations have been past references for her work. Rather than mimicking these effects, however, the artist creates her own environments in which to play with the textures, symbiosis, and reactivity of material elements.


I asked Julia about the juxtaposition of delicacy with repulsion in works such as Deluge, a mixed media collaboration with Clare Parry, where elements like ceramic and paper growths mimic tentacles and cell formations. “It began as somewhat unconscious… I want the works to feel organic but also toxic,” she says. The result is entirely engrossing.

Falling into her works is not difficult; they function together, not because of a shared vocabulary but due to the internal logic of their self-sufficient environment. Like an Ad Reinhardt painting, each work rewards the viewer with “that extra something” for time spent in its presence. In Deluge, acrylic paint dripping down wooden panels mimics the slow heft of honey, an association that is reinforced by the hive pattern on nearby plexiglass. While there is a clear intent to the detail behind each piece, a viewer can expand upon what is given, and this imagination is key to the liminal space each work occupies.


Liminality implies a threshold or period of transformation. This could be thought of not only as an interaction between viewer and art object, but also as a reference to the artist’s process: “It goes between the meditative and the maddening, which is what I like about detail-oriented work,” Julia says of works such as Morphology.



One can imagine a sense of limitation in the drawing of staccato-like marks and expanse in the creep and drip of each element. The drawings “almost beg to be destroyed by more contact” and simultaneously echo the heavy manipulation that went into their installation. Through its refusal to remain in one state or another, each element takes on its own identity somewhere between natural and manmade, never fully revealing itself. The art is then “more likely poetry than a novel.”


New work, detail

In her latest works, Julia expands upon her vocabulary of organic structures and explores mirroring as a way of selectively isolating moments of imperfection within each environment. Resembling Rorschach blots, the forms delve further into the psychology of imagination.

Julia’s work will be on show at A.I.R. Gallery in September.

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