Speed Distancing

In Marfa, artist Julie Speed paints through the pandemic. "My hair is on fire," she says.


With Julie Speed’s recent show “A Purgatory of Nuns” at the Bale Creek Allen Gallery in Austin now closed, I thought I’d catch up a bit with the artist at her home and studio in Marfa.

Though Speed moved to Marfa in 2006 (was it really that long ago?!) she’s a perennial favorite around Austin, known for her paintings, prints and collages chock full of art historical (mostly Renaissance) references and quirky juxtapositions of mis-matched subjects with a Surrealist bent.

Via email I asked Speed about how the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have affected her and her already somewhat remote hometown.

“Painting sales screeched to a halt of course, but last year was a good year so I’m okay,” she reports.

“Cattywampus Press had to suspend production on ‘A Purgatory of Nuns,’ the artist’s book/box that they’re publishing.  ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon,’ a survey exhibition organized by the El Paso Museum of Art, just closed at the Taubman Museum and is now in limbo because the art trucks aren’t running. Marfa is closed down tight. I cancelled our regular public spring open studio and all ‘by appointment’ meetings but I’m having big fun making video tour shorts for Instagram.”


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Just started the underdrawing and of course it turns out to be nothing at all like what I was thinking #surprise #workinprogress #underdrawing #pencil #gouache #collage #studio #morning #marfa #penguins with my favorite Lyle Lovett #lylelovett @lyle_lovett on the box with “Penguins”

A post shared by Julie Speed (@speedstudiomarfa) on

Current events invariably creep into Speed’s work.

“There’s nothing that I see, read, hear or think that doesn’t eventually end up in my paintings but when, like now, my hair is on fire, I try to resist the impulse to paint my own immediate personal feelings. My reactions aren’t so ham-fisted if they bubble up out of the soup later on with some perspective attached.”

In certain ways, Speed’s life in Marfa remains the same, though there’s a new urgency to some habits.

“Even more than usual I depend on working with my hands to keep my head on straight,” she says. “I don’t have studio assistants anyway, so work feels normal. Spring is here so there’s more than enough digging, planting and weeding always waiting to be done. I’m really lucky that the studio door is about 20 feet from the kitchen door and about 10 feet from the garden gate.”

I confess to Speed that these day I’m making more to-do lists than usual to keep my head on straight, and I ask if her day-to-day practice has changed.

“Paintings happen in large chunks of time so everything else revolves around that. Like all animals I function better on regular schedule and because even before the pandemic I was already pretty much a workaholic recluse so, so far, so good.”

Julie Speed, "Righteous Bear"
Julie Speed, “Righteous Bear,” 2019. Gouache and collage. From “A Purgatory of Nuns.” Image courtesy the artist.

Erin Keever
Erin Keever
Erin Keever is an Adjunct Professor of Art History, freelance writer, art historian and art appraiser. She lives and works in Austin, and serves on the Sightlines board.

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