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Julia Schmitt Healy: Dog Totem
Julia Schmitt Healy
Dog Totem 1978
Julia Schmitt Healy received her BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Living in Halifax since 1973, Schmitt Healy was an active part of the Halifax art community, being instrumental in the establishment of Eyelevel Gallery, and taking on the position of director of the artist-run centre until 1974. She wrote, taught, and was a CBC Radio artist contributor.
In Halifax Diary, Diary Series (1973-75), Schmitt Healy represents both recognizable and unrecognizable subjects in three rows of five. The subjects become symbols, each standing in for particular memories and experiences with the city. Each object is cut-out, lifting from the paper, the wood backing creating a white shadow behind each image. In her Now Appearing catalogue essay, Susan Gibson Garvey says Julia Schmitt Healy draws her images from the family photo album: weddings, domestic ritual, portraits of friends, relatives and faithful pets. Drained of family sentiment through their unique treatment, they acquire a droll and sinister edge...This playful game of material substitution has produced some extraordinary images: anthropomorphic animals, ritualistic figures and masks, relatives, friends and pets alike converted into Fabricville zombies.
Gibson Garvey continues, In Dog Totem, the repeating dog-bone was stenciled onto the canvas in brown and white, then covered with black paint which was scratched with the herringbone pattern and the faces of the dogs. Its pictorial surface cleverly interweaves graphic surface with symbolic reference. The two watchful faces (which, with the suggestion of a third leading off the canvas, remind me of Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of Hades) are furred in short wiry strokes that follow their form, contrasting with the tweedy-textured ground. The composition is unified by an overlay of dog-biscuit bone-shapes (offerings to the dog god?) in a modified herringbone pattern that knits figure and ground together, and simultaneously conflates the ordinariness of pets, food and fabric with the totemic implication of bones.
KB and from Now Appearing by S. Gibson Garvey