Julie Speed is an American artist known for her meticulous and startling contemporary works. Her paintings, etchings and collages present bizarre imagery that is rife with absurdity, violence and anxiety, and have been described as both disturbing and beautiful. Though constantly labeled a “Neo Surrealist”, Speed describes herself as a “Pararealist”, offering a glimpse into a world that exists parallel to our own reality.
Born in 1951 in Chicago, Speed dreamed of being an artist at an early age. At 19 years old, she left her studies at Rhode Island School of Design and traveled throughout the United States and Canada, working “pickup jobs” such as writing ads and training horses. In 1978, she relocated to Austin, Texas, where she committed herself to the life of a full-time artist. Speed is currently based in Marfa, Texas, where she maintains her studio.
Aside from her brief stint in art school, Speed is largely self-taught. Her influences are also vast, ranging from Northern Renaissance paintings to Mughal and Persian miniatures to twentieth century figurative art. Japanese woodblock prints, fairy tales, and early Byzantine art have also had a great impact on her distinct style. Speed produces work primarily in the form of oil and gouache paintings, etchings with Chine-collé, and collage, often combining these disciplines.
While her work has recurrent themes – such as rendering her subjects with third eyes and multiple limbs – Speed leaves it up to her audience to draw conclusions about the meaning behind her art. In an interview with Ross Smeltzer, the artist elaborated on the diversity of her visual sources and ambiguous nature of her work. “I’m trying to solve a puzzle that is visual first and narrative second,” she said. “The elements are color, form, line, texture, bits from the news, light from the windows, what I just saw in the street or in a tree when I walked to town to get the mail, a book, a phrase, a shadow and a thousand other small observations, so many that I could never count them or quantify them but they all occur and combine in the present. It’s a puzzle for me now when I’m working on it and it takes every bit of concentration to get the work right. As a practical matter it wouldn’t be useful to me to try to factor in my guess about how someone else would think or feel about it at some future time.”
Speed’s art has been published in a number of books, including Undertoad (2015), Speed Art: 2003-2009 (2009), and Julie Speed: Paintings, Constructions and Works on Paper (2004). More information can be found on her website.