Gallery Hop: Julia Harmon's 'Memento'


Another Friday night rolls by and Savannah's night life awakens again, regardless of the low temperatures that have come as a surprise to this coastal town. It was in this stoic spirit that a new art exhibition opened downtown, expecting local patrons to bring the much-needed warmth.

"Memento," Julia Harmon's SCAD MFA thesis show, welcomed visitors with a blast from the past, calling on every family memory that is stored in the furthest corners of their brain.

People slowly poured into Non-Fiction Gallery after doors opened to the show at 7 p.m. Some regulars and some new faces bonded over admiration of Harmon's craft. Conversations flowed over cheese and wine as people shared not only their opinions of the work being displayed, but the personal memories that these evoked.

The crowd did not circulate quickly and left as soon as they had seen all of the pieces, a common pattern in these sort of events. Instead, the crowd condensed within the confines of the gallery and kept revisiting different pieces that had been viewed previously each time a friend or acquaintance came in.

With a great sense of nostalgia, we face paintings that remind us of family gatherings, candid moments and all sorts of snippets of our past. The pleasantry of the connection between audience and art work is clouded by the apparent lack of definition. However, it is the intentional omission of finer detail that allows for an emotional connection with the artist's process.

Harmon explores the idea of memory and the elusive nature of mental images. Quoting from the artist's statement, "the ambiguous and atmospheric properties found in my work symbolize memory's malleable qualities."

Using family photos and film stills, Harmon creates a very personal body of work that attracts the viewer to remember similar moments of their own history. All of her reference material has gone through different processes to emulate photographic errors—such as damaged film, blurs and image ghosting—hence mimicking the human perception of a mental image.

Her exquisite technique is nothing short of amazing when considering she is working oil paint on panel. By making sure to avoid heavy handed brushstrokes that might texturize the surface, Harmon creates a semi-satined finish, which only deepens the connection to the use of photographic reference.

Perhaps one of the most appealing factors of the show as a whole is the arrangement of 81 small works into what the artist has labeled as a "cluster." Going further into the realm of perception, Harmon arranges these works as if to represent a walk down Memory Lane. Different snapshots of moments that might or might not be directly related, but somehow are stored in our brains in a particular order.

As a viewer, we cannot help to insert ourselves or our own family into the different scenarios presented in these pieces. In her attempt to recreate the blurriness of a mental image, Harmon has allowed her audience to relate to the work more closely.

Instead of looking at a perfect representation of a member of the Harmon family, we are looking at moments that we all share as human beings, breaking cultural and chronological barriers. The picture of that one particular party, or the day certain family member visited.

Perhaps that one time your dad tried to take a family portrait. Regardless of the exactitude of the elements in the painting, the viewer is invited to relive their own version of that moment.

Harmon closes her artist statement by comparing the distortion in her work to the "nature of memory and the weathering it endures over time." This bitter reminder of the deterioration of our sanity explains a little better the nostalgic feeling that her work creates in our hearts.

The idea of maintaining a visual connection to our past has existed since the dawn of man, and it is the very concept that makes this show appealing.