Julia Baker Bell
Although Olive Branch resident Julia Baker Bell didn’t start painting until 2002, she incorporates a lifetime of experiences into her work with each textured brush stroke.
The 67-year-old former corporate secretary took up painting as a post-retirement hobby alongside animal rescue helping with her local church. Her first painting was done with leftover house paint. “I just wanted to see what I could make of it,” she says. “It’s a different texture and it really changed my outlook switching to artists’ acrylic.”
Bell used her subsequent works to develop her own style based around artists of the late 1800s like Georges-Pierre Seurat. “The best way I can describe it is ‘loose painting,’” she says. “It doesn’t look like a perfect photograph. I like to make my art spontaneous. If it’s not, I end up hating it down the line.” For a piece to meet Bell’s standards, she says, it needs to flow out and allow the viewer to get lost in it. “If it’s not, I just throw it out or paint over it.”
This drive for perfection has claimed many of Bells’ early pieces, which she simply tossed in a tub to be whitewashed and scraped from the canvas, never to be seen. “An artist just knows when something makes him or her happy,” she says. “If it doesn’t make me happy, I’m done with it. Sometimes there are two or three other paintings underneath what is shown.”
Her satisfactory paintings, however, hold deep personal meaning for Bell. One such painting, “The Funeral Party,” depicts her five siblings standing underneath two balloons representing her parents who died five days apart in May of 2011. “I worked through grief with my paintings, she says. “But I don’t do dark. Everything is still bright, even when it’s got a sad tone.
Another, “Red Dog and Daisies,” show a faceless family standing next to an expressive pooch, drawn from a photo of a local rescue dog. “It’s not that I can’t or don’t like painting faces, it’s just how they go,” she says. “I try to capture the body language more than anything else. When I was painting it, I didn’t even realize I only put a face on the dog.”
Bell is currently a featured artist at the Playhouse on the Square in-house gallery in Memphis, as well as Methodist Hospital in Olive Branch.