When I was about ten years old, my mother gave me a
book on women artists that included a reproduction of Frida
Kahlo's painting, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair. It
made a deep impression on me. In it, Kahlo depicts herself
sitting in a chair, dressed in a man's suit, with a short
haircut and scissors in hand. Locks of long hair are strewn
over her lap, the chair, and the strange surrealist field
she sits in. At the top of the painting are written two
sentences, both in Spanish, and one line of music. The
caption for this painting in my book informed me that the
lines in Spanish were from a popular Mexican song of the
time (1940) which, when translated, said, "If you loved me,
it was for my hair, now that I have cut it off, you will no
longer love me." I was riveted. Who was this woman? Who was
it that stopped loving her? Was it truly only because she no
longer had long beautiful hair? The painting also scared me
(as did the other Kahlo painting reproduced in the book, the
gruesome Henry Ford Hospital). The space she sat in was
so empty and weird. But I was fascinated by how it looked,
and I loved (even as a kid) that there was writing put
directly on the image.
Julia Jacquette Knot in My Stomach, 1996.
Enamel on wood, 25 x 29 inches.
Courtesy: Holly Solomon Gallery
Later on, as a teen-ager, and as a young painter in my
early 20s growing up in New York City, I started to get very
interested in the contemporary art scene. This was the early
to mid eighties and the reigning queens of visual-art-
incorporating -language were Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger.
I think I felt discomfort with work like theirs, work that
used text as social critique. My reaction at that time was
to avoid words in my paintings at all costs. I found their
work to be as alienating as their text was saying society
and culture was. This may have been intentional on the part
of the artists but it certainly put me off as a viewer.
Julia Jacquette: Knife in my Heart, 1996.
Enamel on wood, 241/2 x 20 inches.
Courtesy: Holly Solomon Gallery
I started to make paintings that attempted to describe
personal anguish (my own) using visual metaphors (usually
some object sitting in some sort of undefined space). At
some point I realized that to make this work as clear in
intention and yet as rich in meaning as possible, having
text in the paintings was going to help. Text could be my
ally. And much to my surprise, I became a painter who uses
language in her work.
Besides Kahlo's use of song lyrics in her self-
portrait, I think the other influential use of language in
painting was that of Magritte, especially in his well-known
painting The Treason of Images, or in The Key of
Dreams, where four objects are labeled "incorrectly" (a
clock is labeled 'the window'). These works too seemed
incredibly strange yet intriguing to me when I first saw
them as an adolescent. The way the images were painted, and
the way the words were painted on (hand-written script) were
incredibly appealing in their loving yet awkward rendering,
seemingly right off a cigar shop sign. His paintings may be
about a feeling of disjunction and the slipperiness of
reality, but this didn't make the paintings off-putting to
the pre-pubescent me. Their execution was, and is, too
pleasing. Realizing this was important to me in the age of
letraset, heat-transfers, off-set printing, and computer
generated images and text.
Julia Jacquette is an artist living and working in New York
City. Her most recent one person show was at the Holly