Artist Profile: Julia Felsenthal
For artists like Julia Felsenthal, there is no better subject than the personal. Or, as Henry Ward Beecher put it, “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.” In her unique portraits and breathtaking landscapes, Felsenthal centers her interests as a mode of interpreting the world around her.
Felsenthal currently splits her time between Cape Cod and Brooklyn, New York. She moved to New York after college to become a journalist, and went on to work for several prominent magazines. But in her spare time, she also began a series of watercolor and gouache paintings of people in her life.
“I just thought, ‘Okay, I’m writing these journalistic profiles, these word portraits of people, and I want to make actual portraits of people too,’” says Felsenthal. “Those two things felt like they went hand in hand.” She titled the series, The Everyone I Know Project. Several of these portraits will be shown in a group exhibition at AMZehnder Gallery in Wellfleet this summer.
When Felsenthal moved to Cape Cod during the pandemic, she turned her attention to painting the ocean. “It was a way of relating to this place that I loved but didn’t feel yet a part of,” she says. She draws a comparison between painting people and painting the sea. “The way skin works is similar to the way the surface of water works. Both move between opacity and translucency. There is a similar kind of complexity.”
The artist found a market for her waterscapes both on and off the Cape. “I think they spoke to people during the pandemic especially. Everyone was interested in finding new things to look at in a moment when we were all stuck at home,” Felsenthal says. “I liked the idea that I was offering a portal to the Cape, a water view to people who found themselves far from the water.”
Felsenthal thinks of herself as a “nonfiction painter.” She explains, “I like the simplicity of it, because what distinguishes my paintings becomes not what I can make up, but rather the particular way I see things.” She cites as inspiration the late Pat de Groot, an illustrious Provincetown artist known for her paintings of the bay as well as contemporary landscape artists like Rick Fleury, who shows alongside Felsenthal at Garvey Rita Art & Antiques in Orleans.
For her next showing on the Cape, Felsenthal will focus on the home. A series of interior paintings, with glimpses of the landscape as seen through windows, will hang at Garvey Rita this summer. “I’m very interested in decoration and nesting. I’m an indoorsy person in an outdoorsy place. These paintings are about that tension between inside and out.” As with her ongoing series of flower paintings, these new interior scenes capture Felsenthal’s personal fascination with antiques and decorative objects. “The things we put in our homes can become talismanic,” she says.
Felsenthal sees watercolor, her medium of choice, as essential to her paintings. “I’m making paintings of water, of people, of flowers. There’s something poetic about using water to paint water, or even water-based things,” she says. “It’s very satisfying to feel that synergy between material and subject matter.”
Julia Felsenthal’s work can be found at Garvey Rita Art & Antiques on Main Street in East Orleans and online at garveyrita.com, as well as at AMZehnder gallery in Wellfleet later this summer. To learn more, visit juliafelsenthal.com or follow the artist on Instagram @Julesandbinoculars.