For Julia Schmitt Healy’s first show at Western Exhibitions, the gallery is thrilled to present a selection of textile works from the early 1970s — a series of ballpoint on handkerchief drawings and a grouping of tufted watercolor on muslin pieces that exist somewhere between painting, pillows and soft sculpture. Coming out of the Chicago Imagist tradition, Schmitt Healy explores images and iconography from the news, religions, mass media and her travels. Her work focuses on themes ranging from ecological disaster, human relationships, symbols, feminism, consumerism and the natural world. The show opens with a free public reception from 5 to 8pm on Friday, April 19 and runs through June 1, 2019.

Schmitt Healy’s early work embodies the Chicago Imagist scene in the early 70s. Symbolic surrealism is present throughout the work — pieces are tactile, stuffed, quilted and finished off with with zits, bandages, hair, and buttons. There are connections to real people, places and things present within Schmitt Healy’s three dimensional psychedelic cartoons of sorts, in which faces have tufts for eyes and threads of worm-like fibers for facial hair. Chicago artist and collector John Maloof, who introduced the gallery to Schmitt Healy’s work, notices the tension and unique spirit present throughout the pieces: “Julia’s playful, yet often grotesque work strikes a perfect nerve where art and absurdity intersect. Who thinks up Teenage Car with Pimples?” Similarities to well-known Chicago Imagists abound in these panels: Barbara Rossi’s fabric works come to mind (a medium which Schmitt Healy used before Rossi); some hair-dos inspired from a trip to Africa are reminiscent of Christina Ramberg; and her puffy cars recall the puffy clouds of Roger Brown.

Julia Schmitt Healy was born in Elmhurst, Illinois and received a BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied with Ray Yoshida and Whitney Halsted. After graduation, Healy moved to Africa, where she traveled and lived, then later toured Europe and moved in Nova Scotia, Canada with her first husband. Her work was represented for many years by Phyllis Kind Gallery in New York and Chicago, as well as Susan Whitney Gallery in Canada. While in school, she co-curated a Mail Art Show with artist Ray Johnson, called “Intercourse,” at the Wabash Transit Gallery. Presently she divides her time between a Manhattan apartment in the East Village and a house/studio in Port Jervis, New York.