Julie Speed: Paintings, Constructions, Works on Paperby Julie Speed
University of Texas Press, 194 pp., $45
When once asked why the title subject of her painting The Two-Tailed Monkey possessed the extraneous appendage, Austin-based Julie Speed coyly responded, "He wanted to have another tail there." The artist's reply answered a variety of questions about her marvelous paintings, a crossroads where old masters meet Rene Magritte and hash it out with Picasso. But that's the easy way of tackling a description of Speed's work. Much more difficult to enumerate is her artistic vision: studied, surreal, skewed, and sly. Kudos, then, to the University of Texas Press for the textbook to such grandeur: At not quite 200 pages, Julie Speed: Paintings, Constructions, Works on Paper is an astonishing guide to her compelling art. One hundred color plates illustrate the titular oil, watercolor, and gouache paintings, constructions, and various works on paper as the essays by Edmund Pillsbury of the Kimball Museum and art historian Elizabeth Ferrer illuminate them. Notable especially is Ferrer's statement that Speed means not to "recall the style of Vermeer or hark back to some past era; she is simply borrowing a narrative device that is as useful today as it was in the seventeenth century." That goes as far toward explaining the Flemish-style perspectives of Souvenir as it does the irreverent treatment of the pope in The Holy See, in which spermatozoa surround the pontiff. Melancholy faces, third eyes, religious figures, sensual undertones, juxtaposed animals Speed's captivating style has an unsettling familiarity, like a dream where things aren't what they seem. Her word for it is "pararealism" and a made-up word is as good as any hifalutin art term for her work. The text portion of Julie Speed closes on an almost whimsical note of dialogue between Speed and the comments of visitors to her exhibit. Answering a question about surrealism, she admits that they irritate her with their "silly manifestos and proclamations and the whole boy's club thing." She need not let it bother her. With the publication of Paintings, Constructions, Works on Paper, she's about to find herself in a world of Speed freaks.