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Julia Whitney Barnes: Nocturnal Nature

Winter Garden Gallery at Brookfield Place

Curated by Common Ground Arts

You’re invited to view Nocturnal Nature, a new body of work by artist Julia Whitney Barnes that pairs the architectural splendor of the Cesar Pelli-designed windows and atrium of Brookfield Place’s Winter Garden, with inspiration from the space’s interior grove of palm trees, which was designed by Diana Balmori, the late wife of Cesar Pelli.  Whitney Barnes’ work—exhibited just off the Winter Garden on the first floor—is composed of a series of framed works on paper that combine watercolor and gouache paintings on cyanotype printed watercolor paper. The imagery depicts botanical arrangements with geometric patterns and the property’s grand atrium windows, revealing various skies alluding to different seasons and times of day. The Washingtonia robusta palm trees planted in the Winter Garden appear to grow right out of the floor, and similarly, Whitney Barnes’ botanicals burst from the implied floor patterns in her artwork. Particularly during these cold winter months, Whitney Barnes’ incorporation of natural elements within her work—sun, flowers, plants, water, and air— brings the promise of spring to this interior hallway, as well as a sense of growth and transformation.

Cyanotype is a camera-less photographic printing process invented in 1842 by scientist and astronomer, Sir John Hirschel, which produces a cyan-blue print when a chemistry-coated surface is exposed to sunlight. Through her use of this medium, Whitney Barnes manipulates physical impressions of plants grown locally in her Hudson Valley home garden and other nearby areas, along with intricately cutout photographic negatives. Each selected flower is preserved through a pressing process in which the artist dissects and shapes each form—akin to a specimen from a natural history museum—and then lays everything out in massive flat files in her attic studio. Given that sunlight starts the exposure process with cyanotype chemistry, the artist carefully arranges elaborate compositions at night and utilizes long exposures under natural or UV light to create the final prints.

The digital renderings of the Winter Garden atrium windows and floor that Whitney Barnes designed, were based on an image taken by her husband and professional photographer, Sean Hemmerle. After creating a multi-part negative based on the glazing and metal supports of the atrium’s architecture, Whitney Barnes meticulously painted the exposed watercolor paper with multiple layers of watercolor and gouache. Each cyanotype is created by the power of light, inspiring viewers to look at these very recognizable images in new and different ways.

Julia Whitney Barnes works in a variety of media from cyanotypes, watercolor, oil paintings, ceramic sculptures, murals, drawings, and site-specific installations. She has exhibited widely in the United States and internationally and has been awarded fellowships from the New York State Council on the Arts administered through Arts Mid-Hudson, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), Abbey Memorial Fund for Mural Painting/National Academy of Fine Arts, and the Gowanus Public Art Initiative, among others. Born in Newbury, VT, Whitney Barnes spent two decades in Brooklyn, before moving to the Hudson Valley. She received her BFA from Parsons School of Design and her MFA from Hunter College. Whitney Barnes has created site-specific installations at the Dorsky Museum, New Paltz, NY; Arts Brookfield, Brooklyn, NY; the Wilderstein Sculpture Biennial, Rhinebeck, NY; The Trolley Barn/Fall Kill Creative Works, Poughkeepsie, NY; GlenLily Grounds, Newburgh, NY; ArtsWestchester, White Plains, NY; Gowanus Public Arts Initiative, Brooklyn, NY; Lower Manhattan Cultural Council/Sirovitch Senior Center and the New York City Department of Transportation, both in New York, NY; and Figment Sculpture Garden, Governors Island, NY; among other locations. Learn more at


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