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There is a particular understanding of life that comes with each of us. It's made up of the events that shape our lives, the investment we place in that which we do and a cultivation of identity.
    My life, itself, has been “a piece of work.” I have lived a life of adventure, exoticism, privilege, risk and good luck. I was born lucky for I was born with a natural ability to draw and paint and create a persona that has also become an expression of my understanding of life. My work and my persona are in sync.
    Tracing the work back to its roots, the first advantage I had was to be raised in a cultured home. My father is a Doctor of Music and I was encouraged, once the seeds of art had begun to sprout in my life, to cultivate my talents. I not only drew, painted, wrote and built things, but I was also attracted to “the life of an artist” - a vision I conjured from stories of historical artists, the Left Bank in Paris, Bohemia and 'hippiedom.'
As a woman, I was always liberated. I came out of childhood in the late sixties - the age of liberation, sexual freedom and expressive sensuality. As I merged into the adult world, I did so with a tool set that included ability, education, family support and a generation, my generation, that fueled my inclinations to make a 'difference' as a woman.
    I hedged my life choices towards exposure and diversity. I honed my discipline -painted, drew, created installations, wrote, did performance pieces and produced videos. I traveled throughout Europe and crossed overland to India. I later explored Mexico and Central America. I married. We lived between Mexico, the Bahamas and the backwoods of Canada where we lived without electricity, bathing in mountain fed streams, heating with wood fires and raising two children, a boy and a girl, on natural foods. I met famous, talented, wholesome, enlightened and, almost always, interesting people. I continued to make art - to translate my revelations or disappointments into a physical expression. I wrote. I painted. I made more and more things.
    If you were to ask me why it was that I created such-and-such a piece at a particular time in my artistic life, the answer would lie in the story that my life was telling at that time. When I was a younger woman, living with the politically radical milieu of friends and family, my work reflected this. I made videos with bold sexual messages. I painted about my environmental concerns. I used my younger, fresher look to offset the specifically brazen pieces. I got away with a flashy rudeness because my actual life was healthy and holistic. I became an example, both for women and for other artists. I was free from financial pressures by virtue of a humble income through my marriage and so I made art without having to pander to a market.
I also experienced some of life's sadder lessons. My marriage ended. Our home, that my husband and I had built, burnt to the ground while I was living there. Trauma metered my subject matter.
    The subject matter followed the experiences. “Home Offerings, ” at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Vancouver, told the story of the house fire and a subsequent reconnection with Buddhism that was illustrated by the offerings for protection of the home that I had seen in Bali and Thailand. “Feathers Flying” told the story of the breakdown of my marriage. To date, I have not yet relinquished the strong male image of the rooster that first appeared in “Feathers Flying.”
    I attended my first Venice Biennale in 1995. I painted a series of large renaissance works that conformed to the phrase “contemporary narrative” that I believe was first coined by Eric Fischl. The series, based on photographs taken in Piazza San Marco, were expanded into an edition of lithographed and silk screen posters that graced the streets of Venice for the 1997 Biennale, a guerilla intrusion of the sacrosanct art fair.
    Once out of the confines of my marriage and rural lifestyle, I began a Masters Degree through New York University. I returned to Venice. The classical architecture and exposure to renaissance masters affected my own work. I used traditional painting techniques, mixed my surfaces with rabbit skin glue and powdered pigments and incorporated columns, arches, classical instruments and lacy imagery. I wrote extensively, mulling on the philosophy behind my work. Over three years, these writings became books, published in limited editions. I used excerpts from these books as a ground on my paintings over which I superimposed romantic images. I drew over and over again from a small bronze sculpture at the Correre Museum in Venice. The two lizards, depicted in this sculpture, twisted upon each other, either making love or devouring each other. They became a recurrent image.
    Sexuality, always a thread in the fabric of my work, became a warp - more than just a thread. As I began a second Masters Degree from The New School University in New York, I concentrated on sex. I conducted ethnographic research into public sex venues in New York City and documented my discoveries in drawings, writing, and my paintings.
    I was ten blocks to the north of the Twin Towers when the disaster occurred. CBC, knowing I was in New York, called and I subsequently covered the event for morning radio broadcasts. The rooster, as a subject, reappeared with 9-11. The image of a large aggressive bird hit a cord of recognition. I painted “Cock Fight,” a huge image of an attacking rooster. I moved from an exploration of rooster images to Dobermans as I considered protectionism and The Homeland Securities Measures.
    Throughout these pieces, the entire taste making that I had fostered throughout my varied and privileged lifestyle was brought to bear. I wanted these pieces to be large, commanding, monumental testimonies to the power of an image. Made, as they were, by a petite, mature woman, they expanded my realm of influence. The work began to feed itself. The images led to new images from new experiences. They came from world affairs “War in Iraq!”: big difficult, inspiring New York City and the brutal, confusing necessity of finding gallery representation. The birds and animals began to speak together as well as through me.
    I use birds, animals and reptiles that have been preserved through taxidermy, rather than photographs, whenever possible. I like to manipulate light upon their feathers and place them in strange positions. Then I capture them, paint them and give them power. I enliven them.
    On a recent road trip to Texas, I bought a taxidermed bob cat and rattlesnake. The bobcat now prowls across the art nouveau love seat in my living room, where Saatchi, the famous collector, has sat. The rattlesnake startles me from the bottom of my closet, curled and rising from a very expensive, red, high-heeled shoe or perches on my piano and shakes a rattle as I attempt to play. I have a mummified cat and raccoon that I also use as models. Taxidermy was originally used to display trophies of the hunt. The dried skins were stretched around sculpted clay and straw and displayed as a collection. I have set stuffed and mummified animals within the context of my personal art collection- renaissance drawings and contemporary paintings, drawings, sculptures and ceramics. I am creating a collection about collections.
    I sense a personal power galloping through my work right now. It is difficult to hold this power down - to paint small or mitigate the subject matter. Similar to the notion of “Women who Run with the Wolves” - I find I am not alone on this artistic journey. The images that I use and the way I deftly turn them out are now running together with a completely natural gait.

Julie, Lady Oakes