Art Matters Featuring Julie Houck
by Susan Sherrill Axelrod
For Julie Houck, loss and grief have offered opportunities for artistic evolution and expansion. In 2012, she was living and painting on Maui when her husband’s passing put a pause on her career. A few years later, she traveled across the country to spend a summer month at 26 Split Rock Cove, an artists’ retreat in Thomaston, Maine. There, in the studio on the edge of the ocean, she found both solace and inspiration. “I was able to distill down and dig deep, and that’s when the lights went on,” Houck says.
That same summer, Houck discovered Portland Art Gallery, and after a meeting with the paintings she had created in Thomaston, had a contract to show her work. She had felt for some time that she needed to establish a home base on the mainland, and it seemed as if the pieces were falling into place. “I had checked out a lot of another cities, looking for the right mix,” she says. “There I was in Maine, where the creative lights went on, and in Portland, where I had a gallery, and I thought, ‘follow the signposts.’”
In 2016, she bought a house in the midcoast with a view of a saltwater marsh. While she had painted big skies and luminescent clouds in Hawaii, it was in Maine where coastal scenes became a signature. “My landscapes are all pulled from the real world,” Houck says. I’m transfixed by where the water and the land meet—the marsh is that connectivity piece, the rhythm line. It’s like a meditational, visual highway.”
Houck has since branched out into painting abstracts, a move precipitated by a health crisis, which resulted in her not being able to use her right arm. “I knew I was going to have to really let go of the reins,” Houck says. “It broke the ice of my own barriers in terms of what things are supposed to look like.” Using her non-dominant hand, she began painting “concepts, the inner landscape, of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, experiences—the rhythm line moving through me.”
Now fully healed, Houck often has a landscape and an abstract in process at the same time, and she relishes the creative benefits of going back and forth between the two. In a similar vein, her life is happily bicoastal; she spends late spring through early fall in Maine and the rest of the year on Maui. And she continues to stretch as an artist, recently learning the art of printmaking at a Maui studio. “I think it’s important to be constantly evolving, bringing in new energy,” she says. Externally and internally, her energy continues to spark, and to flow.