Homegrown artist returns from Big Apple to paint in the Columbus ‘renaissance’
Julianna Wells grew up in the kind of place where deer roamed freely.
Her doorbell would ring in the middle of the night, and the person on the other side would often need her father’s help. She lived “in the middle of the woods, surrounded by wildlife and miles of forest.”
“...Someone would show up with a box. There’d be an injured owl in it, and suddenly, my dad would be (taking) it to Auburn,” she said.
Her father was a park ranger, and she spent her earliest years in the ranger’s residence on the grounds of F.D. Roosevelt State Park. She made some of her first memories exploring the underbrush and finding artifacts. Even when her father retired, the family moved just outside the park gates. She’d still visit often to hike and explore.
“It was really magical,” she said. “It was a really cool place to be a kid in.”
Today, Julianna is an artist. Like some of her favorites — Edward Hopper and Van Gogh — she paints scenes she’s familiar with. She paints what she knows.
Wells, 24 from Pine Mountain, graduated from the New York Academy of Art in May and has moved back to Columbus. Her primary mediums are painting and drawing. Her scenes often feature nature and realism.
From engineering to art
Her introduction to art occurred at an early age. On rare occasions, her grandmother, a hobbyist oil painter who traveled the world doing different artist workshops, would put Wells on her knee and guide the young child’s brush on the canvas as they “painted” together.
Her uncle, a trained artist, gave her lessons at a young age. And following his retirement, her father started painting to encourage Wells to pick up her brush more often. She would spend hours after school painting and bonding with him well into the evening.
Museum trips happened often and a particular outing to the Columbus Museum stands out in her mind.
“I saw Bo Bartlett’s huge ‘Homecoming’ painting there, and Steven Assael’s portrait and I was just mesmerized by what these artists were able to do,” she said.
She studied hard in school, and for a time, thought she’d end up in a field like engineering. But her art teacher at Harris County High let her further explore her interest in painting.
“She let me stay after school and make oil paintings and experiment,” she said. “I really found that I had a passion for it. ...I think I just realized that it was something that I had to do. I didn’t feel satisfied unless I had drawn or painted that day. I felt really drawn to it.”
‘The real deal.’
Wells received Columbus State University’s Funding Future Artists Beyond the Limit Scholarship and completed her undergraduate degree there. As a student, she traveled abroad and took master classes with artists such as Bartlett. Wells studied independently with Bartlett too and says he and his wife, artist Betsy Eby, are among her influences.
“His tutelage was very integral to me growing as an artist because he had me drawing and painting from life exclusively, not using photography,” she said of Bartlett. “They’ve both taken me under their wing.”
Bartlett called Wells “the real deal.”
“She is one of a rare breed amongst artists — one who has the entire package,” he said. “ I believe in Julianna. She is giving, diligent and clear-eyed. Columbus is fortunate that she has chosen ... to return home to grace us with her creativity. She is a bright light.”
After graduating from CSU, Wells left for the Big Apple and attended the New York Academy of Art, where many of her favorite artists were instructors.
“It could have been anywhere in the United States,” she said. “But to go and study there with those artists was huge to me. I’m still processing everything that I learned during my time there. It’s almost like boot camp for a painter.”
She received her master’s degree in May, and she was ready to move back. She kept tabs on the city through social media, and oftentimes, when she made pieces in New York, those interested in buying the art lived in the Columbus area.
“I was ready to come home,” she said. “I like the pace of life here, and a lot of my inspiration comes from nature which I kind of felt distant from when I was in the city.”
Another driving factor that brought Wells to Columbus was the growth of the arts community.
“There’s a little renaissance that is going on in Columbus, Georgia,” she said. “There’s a community of artists that are making things happen. ...They’re all very young artists (and) many of them that I graduated school with.
“There’s the Heritage Art Center that Karen Ouzts is opening very soon with a gallery and studios that I think is going to be a real art center for recent graduates as well as local artists. ...There are many creative minds here, and I find that really exciting.”
As it thundered and the rain began to fall on a late August afternoon, Wells had several paintings tacked up on the walls of her Columbus garage. She was working on a painting based on an old cabin at F.D. Roosevelt State Park that was damaged in a tornado years back.
“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else right now,” she said. “You can make it happen here in Columbus.”