Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s crush is the very near & very dear to my heart Ms. Julia Sparenberg.
“She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot.” ― Mark Twain
Julia is a true polymath. She is a phenomenal photographer, a stunningly agile writer, a visual artist, web designer, printer, felter– the list goes on and on. In my home alone I’m lucky enough to have half a dozen Julia Sparenberg originals. Her felted vulvas decorate my Christmas tree. Her photograph of her beloved dead zebra finch is the cover of my first book. I… cannot be partial, because I am so thoroughly entrenched in her brilliance, so basking in her starshine.
But I’ll try.
Here’s my dear friend & feature, Julia Sparenberg.
Where can we find your work?
I feel like a lot of my recent work/work in progress is scattered about Facebook. Or is still half-drawn on a wall or floating around in my head, unrealized.
My official site has the best of my (commercial) photography portfolio–work that I’m very proud of and grateful for–but isn’t at all inclusive or comprehensive of what I’m actually doing now or what I’m passionate about. I’ve become one of those artists who never updates their website and it’s kind of killing me.
What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
It really depends. Sometimes it’s loss. Transition. The liminal.
I feel very hyperfocused on the idea of how we capture moments so ephemeral or subtle, experiences that are very meaningful at the time but become forgotten as we age.
I also am fascinated with repeating patterns, fractals, and basic symbols. Things drawn with fine lines over large surfaces. I tend to want to take a pattern and repeat it over and over again to see what kind of life it takes on. Drawing an organic fractal makes you understand certain unspoken rules in how shapes and forms emerge.
What were you like as a child?
Painfully shy. Sensitive. I cried a lot. I loved science and reading and was quite happy to live in my room. I was fascinated with Fiddler on the Roof, because my grandmother had grown up in a shtetl, and I craved to have a defined role and a reason for being, even if it was in a world that was very small and foreign.
I never felt like I would ever fit in with “normal” people and that there were lots of rules of how to be a social animal that I was completely unaware of.
Can you remember the first piece of art– performance, literary, fine, street–you saw/read that wowed you?
Absolutely. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I happened upon two movies on a quiet evening (thank you, basic cable): Un Chien Andalou, and then a few days later, La Belle et La Bête. Watching those films exploded my mind. I remember being literally frozen to the spot where I was standing, eyes wide. I had no idea that movies could be like so dreamlike and possessing an unreality that also made sense, and both of those films opened up such a love affair with the strange and sublime and the visual that I have never forgotten how it felt to see them for the first time.
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
This is going to sound funny but the work I love the most is the work I create for people I haven’t met yet.
So I make things, and am not always sure why, and then those pieces are around and then there’s a future time when I meet someone and realize I made that thing for them and it was months or years before I knew them, and it’s kind of tiny and perfect. I like giving things to people in that way.
What’s keeping you embodied right now?
Right now, at the moment I’m writing this, I feel like I’m doing okay. But I’m also aware that my balance and perspective can change at any time; it’s how I’m wired. It’s so hard right now for pretty much everyone I know. Going deep has become really necessary because otherwise I easily become consumed by the deluge of the news cycle.
I rely on my relationships (my husband, my boyfriend, our circle of loved ones) and authentic communication. Physical touch, cuddling, sex. Reclaiming my spiritual self that I had loved but abandoned years ago for not very good reasons. And looking at as many intriguing visual images as I can to keep my mind occupied and thinking about the bigger picture.
Tell us a story.
Once upon a time there was a girl with brown hair and blue eyes, and she went to Paris with the studious college boy whom she would marry the following year.
The girl had never been anywhere before. She had gotten her passport especially for this trip.
She was 24 years old and had never done anything special in her life. She just lived her life without thinking about it one way or another.
And then one day, she was in Paris.
Back in the hotel room, the boy was still asleep or tired and didn’t want to go out. So she went out by herself. She didn’t really know where she was going, but before she knew it, she was on the quai of the Left Bank, looking at Notre Dame Cathedral.
The entire sky was glowing pink and orange with the setting sun. Notre Dame was so beautiful and she had never seen anything like it in her life, so she started to cry. She was frozen to the spot where she stood. People walked around her.
One day or the next, the brown-haired girl was walking along the Quai de Bourbon on the Ile St. Louis. By now the rhythms of Paris were not so foreign to her.
She stopped at 19, Quai de Bourbon. There was an engraved plaque to the right of the blue enamel-painted doors. The plaque was dedicated to Camille Claudel, the talented sculptress and mistress of Auguste Rodin. She had lived in this building. You might know where this building is.
One of the enamel doors was ajar. The girl could peek into the courtyard behind the door, into the serene garden that was hidden to the rest of Paris and to the world. A grey cat watched her.
She wanted so badly to go through the gate. But she didn’t dare. She stood as long as she could and looked and looked at the sliver of the garden that she could see until she felt uncomfortable standing and staring and then she walked away.
But in her heart she wished so hard that someday she would be back, and then she would walk through that gate for real. She would be brave.
The girl married the boy. Years passed.
She thought about Paris and the pink sunset and the blue gate and the secret garden. When she closed her eyes, she could see everything just as if she was there, it was that real.
More years passed. The boy that became the husband became the ex-husband. But that is another story.
She didn’t think about Paris as much as she used to, but when she did, she thought about the garden and the blue door and the cat.
And then the girl met another boy.
And this boy had a key.
This boy sent her to Paris with the key and told her to go and enjoy herself.
The girl stood before the enameled door.
She had the key.
She unlocked the gate. And she walked in and closed the door behind her.
It had taken fifteen years but she was there.
Her wish had come true.
And that is a true story.
Julia Sparenberg is a photographer, artist and occasional poet. Her work has been seen in San Francisco Magazine, 7×7, the San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SHOTS magazine, the Examiner and The Urbanist.