Judith Stewart received her BFA from Syracuse University and her MFA from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Both degrees were in painting, but sculpture courses were ever-present by choice. Professors of painting and sculpture were important influences at both universities, encouraging students towards an internal “dialogue”, to work from their own inner resources. The mantra was simple, direct and challenging, i.e. put some paint on the canvas, respond, add more paint, observe what happens, respond. Let the act of painting add beauty, textures, energies. Discover something.
At Syracuse, printmaker Robert Marks and sculptor Dominic De Angelo were particularly important teachers. Marks introduced the work of the 20th century printmakers, and De Angelo the work of Italian sculptors Marini and Manzu. Art from earlier eras, including the Classical world and the Renaissance were brought forward in contemporary ways. De Angelo also taught student to “see” sculpture not frontally, but at the edge, along the contour, where form is established. At the University of Illinois, Lee Chesney encouraged a wide ranging openness and seeking of action through the medium at hand. Nathan Oliveira, as visiting professor, exhibited his astonishing figurative paintings, vital contrasts to the idea that art had to be a fixed idea, pre-conceived. Instead, passing along the legacy of abstract expressionism, he showed that figurative art was also enriched by a surface showing the history of seeking, of pushing and repainting, drips and scrapes and scribbles intact, the figurative image emerging in a kind of triumph.
Judith was born in Texas, and moved every year of her early life until entering college. Until that time, with her father in petroleum exploration, her family lived in Texas, Oklahoma, California, Argentina, Holland, Switzerland and Brazil. After college, marriage and children, she became Assistant Professor in the Art Department of the University of West Florida for 14 years. While there, she taught in Florence, Italy through the Florida State University program, lectured in Cortona, Italy, subsequently receiving a grant from the State of Florida to return to Italy. That return trip led to paintings of Roman sculpture in the context of today, as encountered in museums, in the forums and public spaces of the cities, often as fragmented remnants in unexpected places. Those works were pivotal in drawing her attention toward sculpture. Making sculpture became more compelling than making painting of sculpture. Bronze casting was the first step. Fragmented, semi-abstract small pieces built directly from randomly torn sheet wax were distillations of earlier eras of sculpture, without direct reference to them. They were spontaneous ventures guided by her own sense of form, and were carried over when clay became her medium.
In 1991 she moved to historic Rancho Linda Vista in Oracle, Arizona, established in 1968 by artists interested in a community centered around the arts. It lies in the high wooded foothills of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The view from her home is of 9,000’ high Mt. Lemmon. The surrounding hills are covered with oaks and mesquite trees, cholla and prickly pear cactus, boulders of great scale, fine habitat for herds of javelina, parades of quail and other wildlife. It is quiet, and a designated dark skies area where stars are seen at night.
In this shared and supportive environment the images, memories, and influences she has accumulated come together intuitively in the studio. Call on points of beauty to savor the beautiful, empathize with the positions of bone and muscle inside the human body to create tension and balance the external body; quirk a finger, turn a head, pick up clay, start a human figure, see what it wants to become, keep the honest marks of its making, the record of discovery which is integral to her work.
Judy in her studio
There is in art no image more evocative, or richer in associative powers than the human form. The human form evokes in us a sense of ourselves, reflecting back like a mirror that slight shock of recognition – our very selves in other guise. Our own emotions and memories are touched, and we connect the art to ourselves. My own strong empathy for the female form as a work of sculpture comes from knowing how it feels to move and live within a female body. This empathy is vital to the way the female form is portrayed in my work, as a personal subject, not an external object.
New figures are not conceived externally, as drawings or models fully realized. Rather they exist inwardly, unformed, waiting to be formed. My pieces are never anything I have seen, but a merging of many things I have seen, images, histories and memories accumulated throughout my life. Intuition guides the building and shaping of a sculpture, bringing ideas forth while allowing the materials used to declare and keep their own rich natures. The demand put upon materials to hold form, and the hope that a human presence will emerge with a unique identity, is for me the fascinating part of creating sculpture about the human body.
52" tall column 47" Plaster
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