BIFA: Swarms adorn ‘Abound’ installation by Julie Hughes at Old Masonic Hall | SummitDaily.com

BIFA: Swarms adorn ‘Abound’ installation by Julie Hughes at Old Masonic Hall

If you go

What: ‘Abound,’ an installation by Julie Hughes

When: Thursday, Aug. 13, through Sunday, Aug. 23

Where: Old Masonic Hall, 136 S. Main St., Breckenridge

Cost: Free

What: Breckenridge International Festival of Arts launch reception featuring a cash bar, music and an artist’s reception for Julie Hughes

When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13

Where: Old Masonic Hall, 136 S. Main St., Breckenridge

Cost: Free

What: Artist talk with Julie Hughes

When: 6-7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15

Where: Old Masonic Hall, 136 S. Main St., Breckenridge

Cost: Free

What: Paper-casting workshop with Julie Hughes

When: 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16

Where: Fuqua Livery Stable, 110 Washington Ave., Breckenridge

Cost: Free

More information: Visit http://www.juliehughesart.com

California artist Julie Hughes will present her installation piece "Abound" at Old Masonic Hall starting Thursday, Aug. 13, as part the new Breckenridge International Festival of Arts. The work is a forest of 20 white plaster trees split open, so the viewer can see inside them, their bases adorned with black paper forms that represent a swarm climbing up them.

"Typically, my work has to do with our fraught relationship with nature," said Hughes, who focuses on things beyond her control, from violent storms such as hurricanes and earthquakes to things inside our own bodies like abnormal cell growth and cancer. "It's about being a small person in a large world."

Cultivating a swarm

She studied the local pine beetle epidemic in preparation for her Colorado premiere.

"I wasn't interested in dealing in an explicit or direct way with the pine beetles," she said, "but I studied how they drill through the trees."

The texture she discovered found its way into her work, which is not meant to be a straight representation, rather an "overgrown diorama or stage set" that gives it a theatrical component.

"The forest is of this world, and not of this world at the same time," she said. "It inhabits two spaces, one realistic and the other more dreamlike and abstract."

Constructed of thin plaster sheets, the tree forms are fragile, giving them an ethereal look. The black forms that comprise the swarm are "thin and frothy," she said, reminiscent of dark petals or feathers "with a floral note."

"I think of the swarm as something menacing, something out of control, a growth that is not necessarily good," she said. "Maybe they cause the tree to be fragile, by feeding off the tree in a way." She thinks of her media as humble, "almost child craft materials," in contrast to the serious subject matter.

"Usually, my work has a dichotomy going on. It could be playful or it could be menacing," she said. "I'm interested to hear what people say about it."

Installation art

Born in Los Angeles, she now lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. She teaches drawing, painting and design at Santa Clara University.

The Summit Daily caught up with her while she was on the road to Breckenridge, towing a trailer full of plaster trees "wrapped within an inch of their lives with bubble wrap," she said. Although she constructed the elements in advance, she was anticipating how the piece would take form in Old Masonic Hall.

"No matter how much you plan, you won't know for sure how things will come together until you're in the space," she said, describing that aspect of installation art as "a love-hate thing," where new ideas come up in the process and it becomes "kind of this fun scramble to put everything together."

"There's a real-time aspect to installation that I think is fun and challenging, that more traditional mediums like painting and drawing don't really provide," she said.

"Julie is one of the more contemporary artists coming to the festival," said Robb Woulfe, CEO and president of Breckenridge Creative Arts, or BreckCreate, the nonprofit organization that is putting on the event.

"Abound" opens Thursday, Aug. 13, with an artist's reception that doubles as a launch party for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts. Hughes will host a talk at Old Masonic Hall Saturday, Aug. 15, and a free, hands-on paper casting workshop at Fuqua Livery Stable on Sunday, Aug. 16.

Hughes had originally intended to cast "Abound" in paper, a process that involves pressing a pulp of ground paper mixed with water into a plaster mold that draws the moisture away, allowing the cast to dry into a form that can be popped out and painted, sanded, sewn and more. However, the trees' 8-foot scale became too monumental for giant plaster molds, so she went with rubber molds created on tall birch trees instead and then cast the trees in plaster. The piece also includes paper, wax, glue, acrylic paint, rubber tire shavings, glitter and concrete.

Artist in residence

She will be in residency at the Robert Whyte house through Thursday, Sept. 10, as part of the Breckenridge Arts District's artist-in-residency program, which "gives artists time and space away from home to experiment with projects or a body of work they wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do," said Jenn Cram, director of public programs and engagement for BreckCreate.

Open studio hours invite the public to meet resident artists and learn about their projects.

"I'm so excited," Hughes said. "I am going to photograph skies to document cloud formation for a series of paintings I'm doing. I know you guys have amazing skies."

She also plans to use her residency to start formulating her 2017 exhibit of all-new work for the Triton Museum in Santa Clara. Beyond that, she said, "I'm going to let myself be where Breckenridge leads me. I'm really excited to explore the local habitats; I'm sure great ideas will come from just hanging out."

Presented by Breckenridge Creative Arts, the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts is a celebration of adventure, play and creativity that runs Friday, Aug. 14, through Sunday, Aug. 23. Find more information and a full schedule at breckcreate.org/bifa, or search "BIFA" at http://www.summitdaily.com.