Julia and Bob Christian’s gallery on Taylor Street is a feast for the eyes. Open to the public three days a week, the second-story living room of their brick townhouse lights up like a jewel in the morning sunlight, and everywhere I look are intricately decorated surfaces… tables, chairs, urns, cut-out figurines, planters, baskets, frames, the walls themselves and, of course, the many paintings.
I am here to meet Julia Christian, rather reticent about her work, but I quickly realize that one cannot really talk about Julia’s work without talking about that of her husband Bob. After more than forty years, their artistic careers and styles are inextricably linked.
We start at the beginning. Has Julia always been artistic? “Yes,” she replies, “You know when you’re a young kid.” The daughter of an architect, her earliest memories in Albany, Georgia are of painting Joan Walsh Anglund coloring books her mother bought her. When I ask her about how long she spent getting a BFA in painting and drawing at Univ. from Georgia, she laughed and said, “I was just thinking about that this morning. When I think of UGA, I think of the B-52s. I had the very first party where they played. Fred wanted to throw a dance party.
What a claim to fame! It refers to Fred Schneider and the iconic new wave band from Athens formed in 1976, currently on a farewell tour. “The last stop is Athens. We have to go.
Her husband Bob, also from Albany, attended the Atlanta College of Art, and the couple moved to New York where Julia says, “I worked for an ‘art factory.’ The owner had a six-store factory where they made frames on one floor and I oversaw the production of abstract paintings, primarily for the interior design industry. We had fun doing it. She continues, “When Bob and I finally got married, we came to Savannah and stayed downtown at the Hyatt. I got off the elevator, and there is one of my paintings. It was the funniest thing.”
While Julia mass-produced bold abstracts (which are still sometimes auctioned off), Bob practiced with decorative painter and antique dealer John Rosselli on 72nd Street. In 1982 he moved his own decorative arts business to Savannah where he and Julia went on to raise three sons. It’s not said, but Julia had to bear the brunt of education, as Bob’s assignments take her all over the country for seven to ten days at a stretch, while she handles the business side of things. , creates and shows his own work.
Although there are several pieces by Julia in the main gallery, we have to step out on the ground floor to see the lion’s share of her output. The street-level gallery is jam-packed with his impeccably framed pencil figure studies from models (“We used to have a figure-drawing group that met at the Jepson”), of painted portraits, of his still lifes in pen and ink and colored pencil. , and colorful oil paintings of dogs and people depicted in his unique and often humorous volumetric style. Interestingly, she still displays several loose abstract pieces and at least one figure drawing created during her time at UGA.
Julia is currently represented by a gallery in Dallas and by the talented Carmen Aguirre, director of the Gallery at the Mansion, who has made it her mission to shine a light on the work of Savannah artists. Sure, Julia makes sales through foot traffic to the gallery and through her website, but says, “We mainly work with interior designers. It seems that over the years they discovered Bob’s work through Julia and discovered Julia’s work through Bob’s. As I said, their careers are inextricably linked…Even their styles seem intertwined. In Julia’s paintings
, the planes are flattened in a post-impressionist manner, and there is often a stylized and decorative element. For example, I’m looking at a recent still life of beautifully rendered loaves of bread sitting on fabric which she then embellished with a rich russet floral pattern. When I ask her about the similarities to Bob’s decorative work, she says, “Well, you’d almost expect that after forty years. He is my biggest influence.
Naturally introverted, humble and deeply private, Julia seems to believe that good art requires no dialogue. She says she enjoys painting figures and seems to effortlessly pull compositions from her imagination, “putting together paintings that hopefully people will like”.
She does mention, however, that her last painting – a still life of a ham – was influenced by her love of Gauguin’s 1889 “The Ham,” which is in the Phillips Collection at DC. She is excited to see the Alex Katz retrospective at the Guggenheim this month and the “Edward Hopper’s New York” exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Always creative, always producing work, Julia has a cluttered drawing table at the back of her downstairs gallery where she draws two days a week. “And I paint upstairs four days a week.” We go up to the top floor of the house to take a look – a bright, well-lit room contains several works in progress, his new still life with ham, his multiple tubes of oil paints and his enormous easel, which already contains the initial sketches of his next painting.
Back in the main gallery, we sit at a round faux marquetry table in the gallery and leaf through the huge binders of magazine articles from publications such as Veranda Magazine, Elle Decor, and Architectural Digest. They feature Bob’s work with the nation’s top interior designers – commissioned murals, floors, ceilings, furniture and canvas – all showcasing what Julia calls his “innate sense and depth of style”.
She is particularly proud that one of her murals is featured on the cover of At Home in the South: Interior Design Reimagined, the first hardcover book recently published by Veranda Magazine.
Julia says, “We work all the time. Everything related to painting, we have done it! As an artistic couple, they are one, although of course each’s works stand out on their own merit…
After UGA, Julia continued her education at the Arts Students League of New York, the National Academy School of Fine Arts, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She is a member of Allied Artists of American, Inc., the National Association of Women Artists, Inc., and the Women’s Caucus for Art of Georgia, and her work has been featured in numerous national publications.
His creative output is prodigious and the caliber of his painting is truly worthy of a museum.
When I ask about the future, Julia says, “You don’t retire when you’re passionate about what you do. Do it for as long as you can.
Julia Christian: A woman of exceptional artistic ability who deserves our attention.
Find out more at Juliachristianart.com and follow her on Instagram.com/juliachristianart. See his work at the Gallery at the Mansion, 700 Drayton Street, and at Bob Christian Decorative Art and Julia Christian Gallery, 114 W. Taylor Street, open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.