Born in Chicago in 1951 and raised mostly on the East coast, Speed dropped out of art school early. After a period of travel and intermittent employment (house-painter, horse-trainer, waitress, stock boy, farm worker, etc) she landed in Austin in 1978. Since then she has devoted herself full time to working in her studio and teaching herself to paint. In her words, “I keep hours just like a real job, only longer, and in my spare time I read books, drink tequila, garden, and drive around West Texas.” In 2006 she decided that just driving around West Texas wasn’t enough so she moved from Austin to Marfa where she has a studio downtown.
''JULIE SPEED, ICONOCLAST
by Barbara Rose
She has a determined look on her face, this dark, muscular nude woman with the overly prominent nose wearing what looks like a red bathing cap decorated with tiny starfish on her head. Slung over her shoulder is a huge gold colored fish that might once have floated in the pond of a Mandarin prince. Or could it simply be a monstrous version of the little goldfish in glass bowls that were sold in five and dime stores, when Woolworth's was still in business. You have never seen this woman before, yet she is strangely familiar. You conjecture she must be the artist's doppelganger because she appears in various situations and positions in so many of her works. But a photograph of the artist reveals she is small, silver haired with delicate features, so this hypothesis cannot be correct.
We will, of course, never know who Julie Speed's Swimmer is since she never existed except as a figment of her wildly creative imagination. Fish appear within many of Speed's mysterious tableaux, including the recent Fishmonger, whose bloody apron testifies to sacrifice, and whose open mouth expresses horror at what he has done. Speed is aware that fish are loaded with Christian symbolism, but her intention is not to evoke scripture; instead she seeks to expose a multiplicity of often opposing meanings as in The Sinner.
Speed fearlessly mixes memories of the Old Master paintings she loves with images from fairy tales, poetry, trash novels, thrift shops, Baroque prints, newspaper photographs, and Persian and Indian miniatures, blending them together with everyday experiences and fantasies. The results of such wide and deep excavations inevitably address the Collective Unconscious so dear to Carl Jung and James Joyce.
Chinese cooks often keep a "master soup" on the stove to which they add daily leftovers until the stew becomes so rich that the original ingredients dissolve into an unfamiliar but delicious stew. Speed arrives at her complex and ambiguous images by adding layers of associations and memories, the residue of her experience which is gradually enriched by time merging into a synthetic image whose sources are no longer distinguishable. She has described this continuous process of image enrichment as follows: "The hambone that got thrown in circa 1958 is indistinguishable from the shallots I added in 1994. The pot's been boiling for fifty years so it's really hard to recognize the individual ingredients anymore."