Judy Demchuk is a Chicago area artist who has helped organize art exhibits at Life Force. Her usual medium is silk painting. This interview was conducted both in person and over email.
Liz Baudler: I’m going to start off with an obvious question: how did you get into art?
Judy Demchuk: I always loved making things as a kid, and both my parents were creative. My mom was a professional seamstress, and wanted to be a fashion designer. So she introduced me to fabrics and textures. My dad was a forklift mechanic who was always good at putting things together, but he was also a very gifted photographer. And he was a harmonica player, he played by ear. I always liked drawing, [but] when I went to college that wasn’t my first choice. I was afraid because I was thinking, “how am I going to make a living as an artist?”
So I went into computer science and I hated it. I worked in the field for about three and a half years, and I was good at it, but I just couldn’t do it. I took baby steps. I went back to school for graphic design, got a degree, and I didn’t get a job in graphic design, though I came close. I went on an interview and I got to see their portfolio, and there was this tree. They said, “oh, we hire out illustrators to draw the tree”, and just in a flash I was thinking, “I want to draw the tree, I don’t want to hire someone else to draw it!” A few days later I got a call from Commerce Publishing for a computer illustrator position. I wasn’t exactly qualified, because in graphic design, I mostly worked with photography, but I went on the interview anyway, and everything went smoothly, and they gave me an offer.
That took me closer to art, because then I took classes to improve my drawing and painting skills for the job. I was doing computer art there, and it still wasn’t the working with my hands that I loved. I went to a workshop in Park Ridge, and there was a studio there for silk painting. That was a medium that I really loved, and I created scarves for a little boutique there. Then, I got laid off at Commerce, and that’s how I ended up as a full-time artist.
LB: What is about the process of art-making, especially silk-painting, that you like so much apart from the physicality?
JD: I think that it’s just fulfilling, it’s almost meditative. I get lost in it. It’s mixing the color, it’s studying. Right now I’m working on a commission for a portrait, so I’m studying the face, and I’m always learning. I guess I love that part of it too. It never stops. It’s like, how can I make this next piece better? With each piece I do, I’m always progressing. Not that all the pieces are great. Sometimes I do pieces that are just OK, but it’s that process to get to a really great thing that helps.
I love figure drawing, I love portraits, but I love both because sometimes, when I’m working on a portrait, it’s analytical in a way. I’m studying the structure and trying to get the personality, whereas when I’m working with silkscreen, it’s a little freer. I was just creating some wraps for a gallery, working with color and texture, so it was a lot looser, more the feel. I needed to do something freer before I could get into something more analytical like a portrait.
LB: You seem like you have both an analytical side to you, having worked in computer science, but also that more artistic side.
JD: Sometimes you have an idea and you need just a little bit of the analytical. Like I wanted to do a painting of Chicago architecture, but I want the background to be a little flowing. You can do both in one piece.
LB: How is your experience of helping to organize the Bridge to Eden show different from actually being in a show?
JD: It gives me a great appreciation for all that goes into putting a show together. I’m learning a lot, seeing the other side as far as curating, hanging the show; getting the other point of view as far as what’s going through their heads as far as defining the show and what they’re looking for in artists. And while doing the write-up. I realized that my strength is more visual art.
LB: What have you been looking for in the show? I know it’s been kind of unusual with the quick timeline and multiple submission days.
JD: You know, it’s been really different. Which is good, versus being stressed. You can’t put a good show together if you’re stressed out. It wouldn’t be fun. But it’s been good. I was talking to Joan and Steve about it, how it’s almost growing, like a plant. It’s very organic in that way. What we’re looking for some sort of connection with plants, and how we co-create with the plants. And actually, part of creating the exhibit was with plants. Steve had put together lots of terrariums to go along with the paintings. When you walk into the space, [you] appreciate the beauty of the plants along with the art.
And plants are actually works of art. I think of nature as being the best artist. I look at a sunset, or I look at a tree, and you try to imitate that, but really…Nature does it best. I learned about color through nature. There were two colorists, Johannes Itten and Josef Albers, who also studied nature, and they created color theories based on it. Whenever I’m stuck with color, I’ll buy a flower, I’ll look at a tree or fruit to see what colors go together, look at the shading. I get inspired that way.
My paintings that are in Bridge to Eden were created using plants. The technique that I used was katazome, a Japanese technique that uses stencils to create the imagery. The stencils are made from mulberry paper. The sheets of mulberry paper are glued together with fermented persimmon juice. The stencil is placed on the textile and then a resist made of rice bran, rice flour and water is screened over the stencil to block out the areas that are not to be painted. Once the resist dries, water from soaked soybean is sprayed on the textile to cure the resist. So, plant-based materials are used in the process of making art. That is another quality that Joan, Steve and I would look for in a submission for this show.
LB: Do you have a favorite piece of art that you keep going back to, like you go back to nature?
JD: One of my favorite paintings is “The Song of the Lark” by Jules Brenton. It’s of this woman, she’s standing in a field, it looks like either dusk or dawn, and I think she’s she a field worker. It’s French Romanticism, it’s in the Art Institute, not a huge painting, but I think I just love it because it is very romantic. I love the lighting of it, I love the portrait, and it’s just at that period where prior to that, the aristocracy or religious leaders were the ones who had their portraits painted, not peasants. This is like a turn, an artist showing respect for the fieldworkers. The painting values all people regardless of social status, and that’s partly I why I love it.
I have a lot of favorite artists. I like Yoshitaki Amano. He’s a Japanese artist who just does very imaginative work. I also love Michelangelo’s work, how he depicts the figure. I love the Renaissance movement—all kinds of art.
LB: Do you think it’s important to be familiar with the history of art in order to create?
JD: I’ve got a huge book of Michelangelo. I love his drawings—not that I come close, but he’s a great mentor. But I don’t think it’s necessary to know the history. If you create, just create. I think we’re all artists. I think when we go to school, then we stop believing that we’re artists, but we all truly are artists.
LB: How important you think spiritual issues and practice are to your work?
JD: I don’t do anything really formal, but I do believe I’m a channel. I think artists are channels, and writers, and anyone who’s in a creative field. We’re channels to create a piece. In that respect I think art is a very spiritual act. With this portrait I say a little prayer before I do the drawing that I do, that I create this piece in honor of someone that I’m drawing.
I created some collections that pertain to spirituality directly. I created Reiki scarves. I also created some chakra scarves, as well as a white light collection in which I used color with the idea of healing through color. In addition, I created scarves and wraps with affirmations for personal empowerment. I also created scarves with inspirational quotes on them. The scarves with “I Love You” in over 100 translations were also spiritually based. I believe that love is the most powerful positive emotion. Many of the pieces that I create are with the intention of making someone feel special and connected.
LB: What do you think is going to be your next project?
JD: I want to finish a piece of a hawk I’ve been working on, which Joan and Steve mentioned [a show about] animals would be next. I’m going to finish the piece and see if it will fit [in the show]. I’ve got some unfinished pieces at home, too. I also love Chicago. One of my artist friends used to go Belmont Harbor and Montrose Harbor and paint, she’s been encouraging me to get out there. Now that summertime’s coming, maybe I’ll do that and use it as my next inspiration.