Indiana Jones could learn a thing or two from artist Julie Szerina Stein. Her love of archeology preceded the smash hit movie and made its way into her paintings and ceramic work.
“I use archeology and anthropology in my art.I have a whole series of Biblical characters that I illustrate and research. I ask myself, what would the buildings have looked like, the clothes, the languages?I want to make sure it is an accurate representation by taking all of the pieces from various sources and putting them together into a painting. Judaism has a history that’s thousands of years old, and I want to get the story as accurate as I can.”
The native Tucsonan began studying anthropology at the University of Arizona before going on to complete her bachelor’s in fine art from ASU, allowing Stein to mix her passion for history and art — a reflection of the way she also likes to mix up her artwork.
“My paintings are composed of mixed media. I first use a coating of watercolor, followed by oil pastels with a final layer of colored pencils on top.”
Surprisingly, Julie did not begin using her layering technique until later in life.
“My Grandma Alfreda “Fritzie” Birnam was a beautiful watercolorist and when she passed away in 1991 I inherited all of her materials. I started playing with paints and that’s where I developed my style,” she explains.
Like her grandmother, Stein’s parents encouraged their daughter’s creativity.
“I was raised in an artistic and wacky world,” she says with a laugh. “My mother is an interior designer, my father a craftsman in woodworking and everyone in my family is pretty unique. The paths that we choose to walk on — or rather, fly on at times — have inspired my art.”
“Flying” toward adventure was the journey that Julie chose. She began at an early age with a mermaid named “La Sirena.”
“I began painting my mermaid in elementary school on my bedroom wall — with my parent’s permission. She travels all over the world. Even now, almost 40 something years later, she’s still a character that I draw. Her life is full of adventure!”
Like her mermaid, Stein’s hunger for adventure led her to travel to other countries upon graduating from high school.
“I was 18 and very curious. I knew so much about other peoples’ cultures, but I didn’t know much about my own.”
That all changed on a voyage to Israel “I decided to visit Israel and ended up living there for three years. I learned the language and took art classes. The history is astounding! The buildings in Israel are like a living archeological dig. The top layer may be a contemporary building, but Downstairs is a building from the 1800s and the level below brings you into another time period. The further you descend, the farther back you are in time.”
Like that ancient city, Stein’s depictions of her fantasy mermaid have changed over the years.
“She once sat on top of a treasure chest on my childhood bedroom wall, but now she travels in my art. La Sirena was trying to get to Japan, but ran out of cash and had to come back to Arizona,” Stein jokes.
Julie herself is happy to currently reside in Tucson. “It’s such a nice community. I feel comfortable here.”
Her own home is part of her canvas, and creating architectural ceramic formations using tiles on a wall helps to keep her busy.
“The ceramics and the mixed-media paintings are my main things. I’ll get bored sometimes and work on a watercolor.Once I’m done with that piece I think, ‘Oh I don’t want to sit anymore. I want to go outside and play on a wall.’ So then I do my ceramics.”
The artwork incorporates religion with a “contemporary twist.” “Most Judaic art is more solemn and serious looking, but my work is very colorful. I research the story and try to tell it in a lively way.”
Stein wanted to portray Biblical figures such as Moses as she imagined him.
“For the re-telling of the story of Moses I wanted to show the gentler side of him as he helps a lost lamb. Many people remember the Biblical story of the Red Sea or the Ten Commandments, but the more personal side was that Moses was a nice guy.
He was worried about a little lamb that got lost. Those moments are what I look for when illustrating my paintings.”
She relates her paintings to cooking.
“My paintings are pretty much goulash. I mix history, cultural diversity, various art mediums in there and they all have to simmer. After a while they come together to make a finished product.”
The print measures 10 x 14. The matt is approximately 16 x 20.
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