As COVID-19 raged, artist Julia Hamilton devised a plan to honor the (at the time) approximately 400,000 victims of the pandemic.
She created a large abstract painting of three panels in shades of blue with 400,000 dot dots – “each representing a lost soul”. And yes, she came up with a brilliant plan, using a leaf and dried macaroni to keep track of the dots. More on that later.
Hamilton’s 400,000 Souls painting, along with about a dozen other works and installations, can be seen at Sean Christopher Gallery in the Short North. The exhibition, titled “The Time Between,” hints at the “time after” when the pandemic is over. All of the works in the exhibition were created during the pandemic and reflect the disease and its impact — or the tumultuous political issues of the time.
“I didn’t immediately start doing pandemic art when the pandemic started because I didn’t know how bad it was going to be,” Hamilton said. “But I kept hearing that they were predicting 400,000 deaths — (the death toll in the United States is now over 1 million) — and I needed to understand that number.”
She used alcohol ink and acrylic pen on a clay board to create her painting. She used the skills she uses in her day job as an information technology programmer to create an Excel sheet and map of squares, on each of which she would draw 400 points.
When she drew a certain number of dots, she transferred one piece of dried pasta from the bowl, keeping track of when she reached 400 dots when the pasta bowl was empty. Then move on to another square and another bowl of pasta until all 400,000 dots have been colored.
The result is a mesmerizing, stunningly beautiful painting that looks like a seascape or space scene, textured with all those tiny dots.
Hamilton allowed her paintings to become political as she celebrated the results of the 2020 presidential election. For “Winds of Change” she used fire, igniting her alcohol ink and allowing the flames to flare and create a partially bubbled surface. In the painting, a smooth blue sphere rises from a chaotic orange-brown bubble base.
“Either Or” reflects her frustration with how heavily politicized America’s two main political parties have become. A large split exists between the blue and red sides of the picture.
As she listened to the news—so often dire—Hamilton found herself often holding her breath. “And exhale”, painted in shades of green, blue and pink, reflects her experience.
Hamilton’s “Music Synthesizer” series was inspired by favorite songs, including Radiohead’s “Reckoner,” David Bowie’s “Heroes” and The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road.” A QR code next to each painting allows viewers to hear the music.
One room of the gallery is dedicated to Hamilton’s installation, a work in progress that continues the 400,000 Souls theme. On industrial racks, she placed blue glass boxes, each covered with tiny dots representing more deaths from COVID19. For example, the field for March 2020 has 7,000 points, while the field for April 2020, which shows the spike in deaths, has 66,000 points. Given the never-ending pandemic, Hamilton plans to continue the project.
Hamilton, a native of Columbus, has an MFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design, and still works as an IT professional, but only part-time, making time for her art.
She said she didn’t get serious about art until she was 45, the age her father died suddenly of heart disease. She said she thought about her genetics and that maybe she should focus more on what she loves and what she wants her legacy to be. Now 60 years old, she has had 15 productive years with more to come.
From one point of view
“The Time Between,” art by Julia Hamilton, runs through Aug. 27 at Sean Christopher Gallery, 815 N. High St. Hours: 3:30 to 5:30 Wednesday through Friday; from 13:30 to 15:30 on the second and fifth Saturday of the month; and 1:00 PM to 9:00 PM on the first Saturday of the month Gallery Hop. Call 614-327-1344 or visit seanchristophergallery.com.