Interviews and writing by Eliza Graumlich
Jude Valentine went to art school to make jewelry. Before long, however, she decided that the process involved too many torches. “I can handle a plumbing torch,” she clarified, “but they had these giant torches in the jewelry department. We had to anneal things. I couldn’t take the hammering.” She imitated the violent sizzle that molten glass makes upon entry into water: sssssszzzzzz. “It was just too much.”
Next, Valentine wanted to try painting. Her school gave her a studio directly outside of the printmaking department. “That’s where I started combining stuff,” she recalled. “I’d do these lithographs and then paint over them or do a painting and then print on top of it. At the time, you just didn’t do stuff like that. A print was a print.”
This September, Valentine used her residency at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center to continue developing her innovative, cross-disciplinary techniques. “I draw, print and paint and it all ends up on one surface but at different times,” she explained. “The beauty of it is that I can get this immediacy with the marks but keep the media separate.” Her recent work depicts scenes from around the farm, with particular attention to the interface between water and forest, and to the trees themselves.
Valentine’s fascination with trees was first inspired by a Maine Farmland Trust initiative called Paint the Farm. As one of 40 artists participating in the program, she visited a 200-year-old pear orchard in Thorndike, Maine that had recently been spared from development. “I had this incredible experience walking around among the trees,” Valentine said. “It was so welcoming. It was a fall day and it was late afternoon so the light was very orange and long. I spent about 2 hours just walking around and sketching the trees and felt this incredible appreciation from the orchard.” She backtracked. “I mean, this sounds ridiculous, but now that I’m reading this book, I get it.”
The book that Valentine referenced was The Secret Life of Trees by German forester Peter Wohlleben. It describes the complex systems that trees use to communicate, involving smell, taste and electrical impulses. “All trees are in contact with one another. They share space, so if one of them is needing light the other will turn its branches, over time, as they have a different sense of time,” Valentine summarized. “There’s this whole world that’s opening up to us, the more sensitive we become. That’s my interest.”
After her afternoon in the pear orchard, Valentine produced a series of tree monoprints. Then, last year, for a residency in the White Mountain National Forest, she made a series of chalk drawings featuring trees. The drawings were dark and dense, a stark contrast to the brightly colored works pinned to the walls of the studio when I visited. Though Valentine arrived in Jefferson planning to continue her study of trees, she has since expanded her focus to include the landscape more generally: “The hills here have this dynamic energy that isn’t quite as claustrophobic as the forest.” She has also started to incorporate more color in her work and pay closer attention to light and shadows, and how they can imply that which lies beyond the frame.
When Valentine is not painting, printing or drawing, she is listening and looking. Much of our conversation was spent simply talking about the scenes she’s observed in and around her studio: a chipmunk who scurried to the corner of the studio just to turn back around and eye her, a red squirrel that left a nut outside of her door some days later and a formation of turkeys that emerged from the trees to confront a flock of visiting Canadian geese. She revealed that, if you listen closely, you can hear leaves falling on the metal roof above—a sound not to be mistaken for raindrops!
Though many residents at the farm speak to the stillness and quiet inherent to the place, Valentine begged to differ. “There’s really a lot happening! It’s alive. It wants to speak. There’s a real richness here and all we need to do is listen,” she told me. I asked, “Can you tell me more about listening?” Before Valentine could respond, and with perfect comedic timing, the echoes of a loud scurry interrupted our conversation. “Mr. Chips!” Valentine cried.