the transformation of julia masaoka
by sandi tomlin-sutker
Julia Masaoka tells me that she flunked art in grade school. Her teachers said of her: “she can’t even draw a straight line.” Her high school didn’t offer any art classes and by college she felt, although drawn to art, that she had no talent. Yet, as it has for so many women, having a child changed her approach to life. One day, looking at her quickly growing daughter, she realized “if I’m going to do things, I’ve gotta do 'em now!”
Her husband was an accomplished stained glass artist; in many ways, she lived her artistic desires vicariously through him. Finally, she took the plunge: an art class at a Jr. College where she began painting acrylics. Almost thirty years later, her natural gift for color is apparent in her abstract “landscape” paintings. (see artist’s statement) And she has learned to let the painting itself take over so that she now says: “my work is my play”.
Julia describes herself as about half an artistic, creative person, and the other half someone who wants to help others. This split (and the need for practical, “bread and butter” work) led her to a social work degree and training as a massage therapist. Lately, though, she has shifted more and more toward art as a completely new medium of expression has taken hold of her mind . . .
“I love color, texture, boldness and mystery. Natural forms and juxtapositions, often from rocks and trees, are points of departure for my paintings. What emerges are the results of a fluid process of painting shape over shape, color over color, allowing the subsequent relationships to give the painting its voice. Painting is my passion, something that is uniquely mine and a language for exploring the mysteries of human experience.”
She has always believed that she has to “go for the passion”. Today, she is on a roll with what she laughingly terms “trashformation”: hubcap art.
How in the world did you get into this, I asked her.
“I always loved to “dude up” my cars, she laughs. “I grew up Catholic and loved both shrines and images of the Virgin of Guadelupe.” And one night, around Mardi Gras this year, Julia was at Grey Eagle. All the tables were festooned with bottle caps, and suddenly it all came together: spirituality, culture and art expressed in the most mundane physical forms.
Since then, she has done over 30 pieces; she can “hardly stop to eat”. She has had several local shows featuring her elaborately painted, decorated hubcaps—all with iconographic images of Guadelupe at the center. Where her passion and artistic vision will take her next, even she can’t predict.
WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA WOMAN
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