Photos by William Colgin
by Jane Clair Tyner
I was introduced to Julia Reyes’ work during the late summer of 2015 at her show, “Confetti and Small Talk” hosted by Smith and Lens in Bay St. Louis. Crowded on the walls was a collection that displayed an artist’s incredible courage to explore and the talent and stubbornness necessary to execute it with a humility only the confident know. The show was a series of oil paintings varying dramatically in size, scope and incorporated textures. Viewed in its entirety, it translated like a map, the work of a skilled cartographer drawing you through an intimate adventure. It was strong, and it was playful, bold with a delightful meekness. There were displays of dissidence and accordance. It was spectacular.
Julia Reyes’ artistry cannot be contained, categorized, or confined. In addition to her collection of oil paintings, she has collaborated with local dancers to create installations examining isolation. Within the gallery Julia manages hangs an installation she designed utilizing shadows cast by carefully crafted clay objects and painted sails of canvas.
Julia is demure with an otherworldly, almost sprite-like demeanor. She has sparkling eyes and a beaming smile and a pair of exquisite, impossibly tiny hands whose movements are an artistry all their own. Julia is thoughtful, deliberate in speech and action; she is sanguine and boundless. There is a look she maintains as though there is always something being processed and drafted for production behind her winsome welcome, and there is. Her natural resting state is one of creation.
Julia’s exploring spirit is present throughout her work, drawing heavily from the surrounding geography. A Biloxi native, she is often found kayaking through Mississippi’s Sound or on an expedition at one of the state’s barrier islands. Should you pay a visit to Deer Island, you may happen upon a structure she engineered from found objects. The clay scavenged from such trips finds its way into her work as does her inquiry into social constructs.
“In a lot of my work, you’ll see open houses or one thing inside of another leading to another, like systems. I think a lot about interconnectedness,” Julia said as she explained the theme of deconstructing objects seen throughout her work. “I like digging through layers and the idea of containers. We are containers.”
She credits her investigative nature to growing up with a father who was constantly taking things apart, breaking them down into their individual parts to discover how they integrated and a mother who is a “spitfire and free-thinker.”
“They let me be what I wanted even if it wasn’t something they understood. They never tried to put me in a box,” Julia said, describing the freedom given to her by her parents.
Having received her BFA from Mississippi State University, she graduated thinking, “I was going to immediately leave the state, but I realized I care about where I’m from.”
At the time, the George Ohr Museum in Biloxi was in process of building its Frank Gehry designed collection halls and offered Julia the position of outreach coordinator. She took the position and has since been an integral part of growing the Mississippi Coast’s vibrant art scene. Julia credits this thriving scene to the Coast’s necessity for a rebounding spirit.
“I find the resiliency of the Coast very inspiring as an artist,” Julia said. “When you go through something very traumatic, often you’ll get great art out of it because you’ve gone through this experience that you somehow have to deal with and have to translate.”
It is this resilience, she believes, which creates the enterprising dynamic of the area and its cohesion and cooperation amongst neighboring communities.
Julia is committed to Biloxi and its artistic resurgence. She recently opened Almost Circle Gallery with business partner Brandy Waltman in the city’s rue district.
“I am particularly drawn to this area of Biloxi, the buildings that are like empty shells,” she explained. “There’s a certain energy here, a rawness.”
Currently, her works are focused less on imagery and more on reconnoitering her materials. While Reyes’ artistry cast a wide range of elements and mediums, with each piece reflecting its own depths and truths, what is consistent is the bravura of her work and ardor for her community.