Julie Speidel’s sculptures engage an extraordinary array of cultural influences, reaching back through antiquity to the stone- and bronze-age peoples of Europe, the early Buddhists of China, the indigenous tribes of her native Pacific Northwest, and on into twentieth-century modernism. Depending on our own spheres of knowledge, we may find in her work echoes of the British Isles’ megalithic stone structures, Cycladic Greek fertility figures, Native American totem poles, and dozens of other iconic cultural forms, some universally recognized, others buried by history. At the same time, her work is strongly linked to that of modernists like Henry Moore and Picasso, who were likewise enormously influenced by the language of antiquity and sought to reinterpret it through a contemporary lens.
Speidel often works at the intersection between figuration and abstraction, suggesting the human form through combinations of elegantly simple shapes. At times, her sculptures appear to diverge from the figure altogether, but they often preserve the basic components of bodies: circles and ovals evocative of heads, vertical forms echoing limbs. On the other hand, they seem inextricably linked to the natural world, their forms equally influenced by boulders and trees. It’s a dichotomy that, at its core, taps directly into the intimate connection ancient people felt with the earth.
“The inspiration for my work is rooted in the power of travel,” Speidel remarks, and indeed, her sculptures assimilate cultural influences in a manner reminiscent of traveloque–organic and intuitive, not academic or preordained. Her work encourages us to make complex associations, but it delights as well in purely formal properties; color, carefully poised compositions, the natural qualities of bronze, glass, and stone. Seen in a landscape, Speidel’s sculptures have a Zen-like relationship with the surrounding area, humbling themselves to the natural world while simultaneously enhancing it, amplifying its effect. When installed indoors, they act as oases of nature, exuding an enigmatic, earthly quality despite their manmade origins, as if in conversation with the organic universe. This, perhaps, is among the most remarkable aspects of Speidel’s sculpture; its capacity to engage in dialogue with the world–not only with its natural elements, but also with the whole of human history and art.