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Tuesday, November 8, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ancient Artistry -- Julie Speidel's Evocative Sculptures Get Viewers Aware Of How The Past Molds The Present

---------- ART REVIEW ----------

"Open Ground," a show of sculpture by Julie Speidel, at the Linda Farris Gallery, 320 Second Ave. S., through Nov. 27. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. Speidel will give a talk about her new work on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the gallery.

Had she been born in a prehistoric time, Julie Speidel might have worked as a construction engineer for the Druids, a kind of high priestess of neolithic public works.

Happily for the Northwest art scene, she is instead a contemporary Seattle sculptor intrigued by the timelessness of basic human conditions, such as the individual's relationship to the natural world and the forces that govern it.

The result of Speidel's artistry is a show now on view at the Linda Farris Gallery that is both beautiful and powerful. The show's evocative sculptures - many of which suggest prehistoric monuments -

easily can send a viewer into thoughts of ancient peoples and cultures and the threads that connect us to them.

Speidel's current show - 13 sculptures and three monotypes - was inspired by a trip to Istanbul, where she toured graveyards, tombs and ruins and observed the impact of the various cultures that have washed over the Golden Horn since antiquity. A self-described history buff with a fascination for ancient cultures, Speidel decided to visit Istanbul after an earlier trip to China.

"We visited one end of the Silk Road when we were in China," said Speidel, "so by visiting Istanbul, we set out to find the other end. And what struck me were the waves of peoples that have left their mark in Turkey. I'm fascinated by what cultures honor."

Many of the pieces in the show are named after sites she visited in Turkey. "Eyup," a totemic sculpture inspired by a graveyard she visited of the same name, is a column of irregular wooden cubes piled into a steel frame and topped with an arrangement of bronze forms that suggest a new moon piled with shiny, precious metal ingots. Speidel said the piece was based on her interpretation of gravestones, which, if they marked the graves of men, were decorated with carvings of fezes, the conical hats traditionally worn by Turkish men.

"Eyup's" vertical orientation, with its wood block "vertebrae" topped by the luminous fez, can be seen as a ceremonial piece meant to honor the upright character of the dead man, a man who in life had a solid spine and a head full of golden thoughts.

Another piece with a direct connection to her Turkish trip is "Seraglio," a graceful blue-patinaed bronze made up of several abstract, vertical forms linked in a horizontal group. Historically, a seraglio was the part of a traditional Middle Eastern home where the wives or concubines were kept; it was the harem. The sculpture suggests a group of women friends casually standing or walking; the smaller bronze forms that connect them to one another is their easy talk.

The ruins of Stonehenge

Speidel's interest in ancient cultures and the spirituality that was paramount in those cultures is nothing new. In the past, she has created sculptures inspired by Stone Age ruins in the British Isles. Speidel spent most of her childhood and teenage years living in England, and was taken at an early age to see the Druid ruins at Stonehenge and many other English and Irish megaliths.

"I think there's no question that when you are, as a child, taken out on the moors to walk and shown those huge, ancient pieces, it gets taken in on a subconscious level. I'm sure I'll always be making portals and megaliths," said Speidel.

She added that by creating sculpture that refers visually to prehistoric monuments, most of which are believed to have been built as places of worship or ceremony, she hopes to cause contemporary viewers of her work to contemplate, even momentarily, spirituality - and note the lack of it - in today's world.

A shrine for contemplation

The most striking sculpture in the show is "Ephesus," a massive blue patinaed bronze that immediately suggests Stonehenge. Like the Druid ruin, Speidel's nine-foot bronze with its three irregularly constructed, capped pillars appears to be a fragment of a temple built to honor a life force far older and more elemental than anything worshiped in such relatively modern religions as Christianity and Islam. Its graceful but weighty bulk invites a viewer to stand within it and step between the pillars. It is a shrine for contemplation and a sculpture that by its sheer physicality demands to be permanently installed in the majesty of the outdoor world.

Smaller pieces in the show include carved and painted wood sculptures that can be viewed as delicate abstractions of the human form, and bronze "torsos" of gently linked ovals (for heads) and arcing spines. Like most of Speidel's works, these pieces have graceful rounded curves despite having been honed to lean proportions. There are also three compelling monotypes that look like abstracted close-ups of stone or rock formations.

A thoughtful woman with a ready smile, Speidel until about eight years ago was a jewelry maker specializing in metal jewelry with unusual patinas. Then, encouraged by Farris, she tried sculpture. This month's exhibit is her fifth solo sculpture show at the Linda Farris Gallery; her sculpture is now in collections throughout the West and in New York.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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