ulia Schwadron Marianelli, recent recipient of the Reno Creative Movement Award through the Reno Tahoe Artist Awards, has been making vibrant paintings of the Tahoe landscape from an idiosyncratic perspective—her eyes directed at the ground beneath her feet. Tahoe is usually presented as a grandiose array of mountainous vistas—towering, all-encompassing, implacable. Schwadron works in a different register, vital and variegated, where rocks, dirt and flora vibrate with a chaotic spikiness. You can feel the slow riot of life vying for space, for existence. Woven under the foliage are traces of words.

In these landscapes, she often begins with a repeated text fragment that she paints over—it provides a scaffolding, a visual structure to build her compositions. It’s a projection of human language into a world that has its own independent, self-sufficient language. When these scraps of English are sent into the foliage, “meaning” is sometimes instigated and sometimes defeated.

Schwadron, who lives in South Lake Tahoe, will be selling work at Atelier’s Holiday Maker’s Market from 10am-4pm this Saturday, Dec. 9 at Atelier in Reno, 1235 Dickerson Rd. (The market also takes place Dec. 10. Each day features a different roster of artists.)

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

A 2023 portrait of Julia Schwadron Marianelli in her studio by Sara LaFleur-Vetter 

You moved to Tahoe from Brooklyn in 2012, which was a huge gear-shift, right?

I remember when folks would ask me “How is Tahoe affecting your work?” and I don’t think I made anything of substance for the first five years. The surroundings were so remarkably different, and they felt so giant. The trees are huge, the space is vast, buildings are smaller, there are no sidewalks. You’re right in the natural environment in this way that I’d never lived before. For a while, I couldn’t really conceive what I was looking at.

I’ve always been an athlete, but trail running fit me because I could be by myself, and I could literally explore new terrain. And I could spend my time observing—“Oh look at all this—look at the ground—look at this natural combination of weird detritus along the trail—look at the way the light changes when it’s shifting through these different kinds of filters that are here. Look at the damage of fire—look at the regrowth—look at the cycles, the way the natural world replenishes itself after it’s been stomped on”—all these things that I never gave one single thought to before, because I’d never really been exposed to them.

“Weather Comes To You,” 20×16″, acrylic ink on paper mounted on board, 2022

How conscious were you of trail running pushing you into the territory—as an excuse to observe?

It was not intended to be a way to find source material. I wasn’t even making any art when I started—just needing to move my body through space. There’s an analogous relationship I find between running, or pushing your physical body to the extent that you’re a little bit tired, and you’re not really sure exactly how you’re going to keep going, but you find these reserves that are exciting—and it’s like working on a painting that you don’t really know how you’re going to resolve it, but you have elements that you want to be in there—and maybe somebody smarter would have had a plan first, but then you have some exciting moment of resolution.

“Trail Moth,” 20×16″, acrylic ink on linen, bundle dyed with plants, 2023

I started dragging actual pieces of trees or rocks from the backyard—basically the same stuff you see on the trail—into my studio at first, and when I’d be far away from home, I would use my crappy iPhone photos to document a moment that I saw of a light situation, matched with some elements that were compelling in a certain way, and that lead me to start to think about subject matter.

I’ve been considering what it means to have a conversation with whatever we call the “natural environment.” It’s kind of a critique of humanness, through my adjacent relationship to all this dirt and rocks and “stuff” that I’m seeing around me going through these cycles, and it being completely amoral—not having any concern for anything except for reproduction and survival.

I think a lot about the names we give to things, the personification that often happens when we want to have things be known. I’m not a poet, but I think about, or imagine, for instance the plant’s perspective of what it means to be growing “in the shadows.” The reason they’re in the shadow is because that’s where the right combination of light and soil is. But to be “in the shadows,” in in our terms, has this other connotation.

“Star Lily,” 20 x 16″, acrylic ink on linen, bundle dyed with plants, 2023

Are you attempting to de-personify nature as you’re representing it?

The irony is that would be a goal, but I’m just re-doing it. It’s like when you’re using the very device that you’re pointing at to point out the thing that you’re pointing at.

You’ll be at Atelier’s Holiday Maker’s Market. What are you bringing?

I’ll have prints for sale. I’ve recently made some other things, like cards. I’m learning about contexts that are very different from a gallery context. It’s been a challenge and fun to figure out what works for my work, and what doesn’t, what feels like a step too far towards, like, a shower curtain [laughs]. Here’s some work that I’m just starting to make—fresh off the table. They’re small paintings. You can see this one says “future garden.”

“Future Garden,” 6×6″, watercolor and ink on paper, 2023

So is this text that you’re generating yourself?

Yeah, this one this one says “rock agenda.” What is the agenda of a rock?

“Rock Agenda,” 6×6″, watercolor and ink on paper, 2023

You said earlier that you’re not a poet, but now you’re writing.

Maybe I’m not a good poet. I’m still limited. I’m finding pleasure—I’m finding a resting place for my mind, in this bridging of worlds. It’s territory that’s fertile for thinking about an authentic relationship to this world that I’m in, versus reading an essay on climate change, which I also am happy to do, but that doesn’t feel as creative or generative. It doesn’t feel as curious a space. I’m not fact-finding when I’m out there. I’m interested in discovering new planes of overlap visually, and mentally. I’m hoping to make images that are provocative in that way.

Julia Schwadron will be selling work at Atelier’s Holiday Maker’s Market from 10am-4pm this Saturday, Dec. 9 at Atelier in Reno, 1235 Dickerson Rd. (The market also takes place Dec. 10. Each day features a different roster of artists.)

She’s also part of the Winter Faculty Exhibition Jan. 25-April 19, 2024, at the Haldan Gallery at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe. An opening receptions is scheduled for Jan. 25, 5-7pm.

To see more of Julia’s work, visit her website or follow @julia.schwadron.marianelli on Instagram.

Photos courtesy of Julia Schwadron.

Posted by Chris Lanier

Chris Lanier is an artist and critic who generally likes to mix things up – words and pictures, video and performance, design and art. He’s had work shown and published in the U.S., Mexico, England, Japan, France, Canada, and Serbia – and has written for The Believer, HiLobrow, Furtherfield, Rhizome, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Comics Journal. He is a Professor of Digital Art at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe (formerly Sierra Nevada College). More at chrislanierart.wordpress.com.