An Interview with Lorrisa Julianus

November 19, 2011

Lorrisa Julianus is a local painter, actress, model, and the latest artist to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL.  Her show – titled Embrace the Night – is currently on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Branch and uses classical chiaroscuro styling to give dimension and mystery to paintings inspired by “the duality of light and dark.”  You can catch the eclectic acrylics of Embrace the Night through the end of November, and after that, you can learn more about Ms. Julianus’ many artistic endeavors by visiting her website.  We recently spoke with Ms. Julianus via email about her artistic resume, Michelangelo and Caravaggio, inspiring audiobooks, and diverse and controversial art.

Evanston Public Library:  Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist?  How did you get started in art?  Was there something specific in your life that sparked a need to create?  What drove you to create in the beginning?  What drives you now?

Lorrisa Julianus:  Born and raised in the Chicago area, I have been winning awards for my artwork since 1998, mostly portraiture sketching in high school and college.  I’ve been immersed in the creative arts my entire life, though painting is a relatively recent discovery for me.  I became a published playwright (Samuel French, Inc.) at age 16, and at 17 became the youngest graduate of record with a B.A. from Columbia College Chicago in Film.  Since then, I’ve labored to establish myself in the performing arts industry, and when I’m not in commercials, films, television shows, or video games including The Bold & the Beautiful on CBS, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, and Mortal Kombat 9, I model for major companies, work in professional theatre, entertain at black tie events, and am a makeup artist.  During a slow time in the summer of 2009, I decided to start painting despite not having had formal education in the visual arts.  Within two months I was displayed in a gallery, and today I teach painting to other artists.

My husband Craig has been a great inspiration to me as an artist.  While he no longer paints, he received the art training in high school and college that I lack and is my best critic, always challenging me to be the best artist and storyteller I can be.  In addition, he was on the Navy SEAL teams so I’ve had him model for me on many occasions.

"The Robe"

EPL:  How do you describe your art?  Do you see yourself as fitting in with any specific artistic movements or styles?  Do you work in any other mediums in addition to acrylics?

LJ:  I am a classical realist and a history fanatic, emulating the masters such as Michelangelo and Caravaggio whose work I’ve adored since childhood.  The latter was the father of my favorite subcategory of classical realism, chiaroscuro, which refers to the dramatic lighting and juxtaposition of light and dark within a composition.  I’m a thespian, so boring and safe doesn’t satisfy me.  The dimension – both emotionally and literally – that chiaroscuro lends to a subject fulfills my need for drama in art.  The human figure is my favorite subject for two reasons.  Like Michelangelo, I think it’s the most beautiful form in creation, and the stories that move us most as human beings are stories of other human beings, not trees or pretty houses.  At the moment, I work solely in acrylics as I find oils too toxic and environmentally hazardous.  I hope to start experimenting with mixed media, but the stories I wish to tell will have to call for it.

EPL:  Can you give us a window into your creative process?  When and where do you work?  How do you choose your subjects?  How long does it typically take you to complete a painting?

LJ:  Painting is wonderful therapy, as is anything creative in my experience.  Many artists throughout the ages have used the process as a form of meditation, and I find that painting has a calming, focusing effect on my mind.  I love to paint in my office in front of my easel while listening to an audiobook.  In fact, many of my pieces find their roots in books you can find at EPL.  “The Robe” is based on one of my favorite books of the same title by Lloyd C. Douglas.  “Duality” is a familiar emotion image to anyone familiar with J.R. Ward’s work.  It takes me anywhere from a few evenings to a few weeks to complete a painting, and I often set a piece aside and come back to it with fresh inspiration.

Choosing a subject to paint and composing the painting in a compelling manner is my greatest challenge as an artist.  Storytelling is in my blood, and it’s what drives me as an actor, writer, and painter.  The masters of the past told great stories from mythology and history in their works of art, often for the benefit of an illiterate public.  My favorite paintings of mine have emotion and story that you can find if you take a moment to look.  My goal is to be able to take the viewer through a range of emotion the longer they study a piece, even if that emotional experience is different for each person.  For example with “The Robe” – one of my favorites – I love to observe the reactions of passersby at an art fair.  One teenager said, “Eww! Glad I’m not that guy,” and hurried on past, clearly overlooking the crucifixes in the background or else entirely ignorant of the Biblical context.  An intimidating Latino gentleman, tattooed and muscle-bound, was striding past the painting casually when he stopped, startled by “The Robe,” stared at it long and hard, and began crying in front of me as he observed it.  “An Invitation to Embrace Duality” – easily recognized as a golden angel with arms outspread – receives its strongest reactions from viewers with psychic abilities.  The hooded, masculine figure can be benevolent or terrifying or both depending on if you see him as a guardian angel or the Angel of Death.

"An Invitation to Embrace Duality"

EPL:  What are your future goals and plans as an artist?

LJ:  My art is featured at the Brigantine Gallery in downtown Downers Grove, the Hinsdale Gallery, Balmain Art and Antiques in Nassau, and my paintings are a permanent installation at Sono Woodfire restaurant in Chicago.  While my ballerina series has been popular, I’m currently drawn to the angels, and I’d love to be able to create more of those evocative warriors and protectors for people’s homes.  One of my dreams is to be a featured artist one month at the prestigious Union League Club, which many people don’t realize houses the largest collection of art in Chicago outside of the Art Institute.  Another dream of mine – being displayed at the Evanston Public Library – has already come true!

EPL:  How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist?  What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?

LJ:  I found that the people of Chicago and their tastes in art are beautifully diverse, from folk art to contemporary, classical to graffiti.  While painting in Nassau last summer, I found that the only paintings anyone (locals, galleries, tourists) seemed to want had to revolve around the tropics and island life.  I love to relax on a beach the same as anyone, but palm trees on a sunny day don’t allow for the same dramatic war of emotions as my Old World subjects do.  In Chicago we have seasons, a timeless symbol for the human experience.  I ignorantly assumed that the artistic diversity in Chicago was the same everywhere.  People from Chicago hail from and enjoy all sorts of cultural experiences, which allows for a melting pot of artistic creations.  You can go to a gallery and never know what you’ll find.  Not only does this allow for a huge range of subjects and styles to inspire other artists, but I know that there’s a special someone for each of my paintings.  I love to ask a viewer what their favorite painting is at my exhibit because the answer is always different and often a surprise to their nearest and dearest.

One aspect of the Chicago audience that has surprised me again and again is the ignorance and respect I encounter while touring with my work, not unlike the duality I like to explore on canvas.  I scratch my head when a piece of mine is censored for being too easily identified with the Christian faith in a highly conservative suburb, while the same piece (“The Robe”) will be respected, defended, and praised for its artistic merit in a strongly Jewish neighborhood.  It’s been fascinating to hear the strong reactions voiced in protest when, for example, it was insisted that a painting of mine be removed because of a violent weapon (i.e. a knife!) in the cheese of a still life.  I am at turns humbled by the accolades of some viewers and left laughing in disbelief at the fear and intolerance shown to my highly traditional and classic subjects by others.  It has inspired me to create future pieces that might actually BE controversial.

Everyone in the Chicago area creative world knows that Evanston is a mecca for the arts, and it’s a joy and a privilege to have my work at EPL.

Interview by Russell J.


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