Emergent threads

Julie Frankel’s approach and style gives fresh meaning to an ordinary scene, such as ‘Bus Stop,’ acrylic on paper.
Julie Frankel’s approach and style gives fresh meaning to an ordinary scene, such as ‘Bus Stop,’ acrylic on paper.

Folks who love to people-watch but don’t want to be rude can get their fill at Linnaea’s Cafe.

Julie Frankel’s exhibit there, “Judging by Appearance,” is described as “people-watching paintings that explore color, pattern, personal adornment and social messages.”

This recent work is a culmination of Frankel’s previous artistic achievements.

“It kind of combines the threads of different things I’ve been involved in,” which includes graphic design, print-making, figure drawing and artist books.

The exhibit features a few collaged garments by her partner Melinda Forbes, which float above the paintings like ethereal beings.

The subjects in Frankel’s paintings wear outfits that express their unique qualities, rather than what is fashionable.

“Their clothing tells a tale about who they are, a social message in clothing,” said Frankel. “This is something I’m interested in on an intuitive level. The way we present ourselves is giving all kinds of clues and cues about how we’d like to be seen.”

Although a few men show up, such as “T-shirt Guys,” most of her subjects are female, based on people she has photographed or images she’s appropriated and given new life.

“The people are both imagined and realistic, and the truth of it is somewhere in the middle,” Frankel said.

As intriguing as the people are, a significant aspect of Frankel’s paintings is the highly textured backgrounds, mostly achieved with non-traditional tools.

The series’ inspiration came in part from Frankel's interest in Indian miniatures, which depict scenes of India’s gods or courtlife. “I love the intimate feeling of looking into one of those paintings,” Frankel said. Their clothing, tiny details and designs especially intrigue her.

Frankel’s interest in creative clothing ties in with Wardrobe Revamp, a workshop series she and Forbes organize through the San Luis Obispo Arts Council, where Frankel serves on the board of directors. “It’s all about reusing, recycling store purchases and turning them into different things,” Frankel said, such as cutting the necks off of T-shirts, or fashioning purses from skirts.

The duo also started the Peace Library in the early 2000s, which involved making works of art in the form of books, so-called “artist books.” “It was by delving into artist books that I became more interested in having more content in my visual art,” Frankel said.

From the East Coast, Frankel earned an art degree at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, then did graphic design for nearly two decades. She moved to San Luis Obispo in 1988 when her husband, now retired, began teaching physics at Cal Poly.

Some time later, fine art strongly beckoned her.

“At age 40, I really did a U-turn and went back to my arts roots,” Frankel said. For 10 years she coordinated the life drawing classes for the SLO Art Center and took art classes at Cuesta College.

Although Frankel is fascinated with apparel as a creative form of self-expression, she isn’t concerned with her own outfits.

“I wear almost the same thing every single day.”