Rick Moody on Julia Jacquette

April 14, 2020

Julia Jacquette, Blueberry Shortcake, 1996. Enamel on wood.

“Love is good, love is difficult, love is impossible, commercial culture is unavoidable, life is short, seize the day.” Today’s prose treat: #YaddoArtist Rick Moody’s incisive appreciation of the visual artist Julia Jacquette, with whom he shared a Yaddo winter in residence.

My favorite Julia Jacquette paintings affix stylized renderings of high-calorie, artery-hardening menu items from our national cuisine (pancakes, ham with pineapple, peaches n’ cream, chocolate-covered cherries, etc.) to rich pastel backdrops. Often there is a line or two of poetry beneath, which usually then serves as the title to the piece, as in Against Mine (1996), or To Suck Your Fingers (1997). Probably, on first glance, the stance feels ironic, decadent foods with too much style. All the longing might appear, to the superficial viewer, suppressed in the work, not the least because of the vertiginous burden of the commercial photography which often serves as Julia’s source for her sinful desserts. On the contrary, though, the longer one looks at these pictures the more clear it is that they seek to preserve and to articulate affect. Human emotions. A tough act these days, in the rush of millennial merchandising. All of Jacquette’s later images, of hands from jewelry advertisements, of celebrities, are good and funny and serene, too, but it’s this early work, with its tragicomic intensity, that strikes me most forcefully.

I happened one year to spend a winter at Yaddo with Julia, and she was every bit as complex as her images, full of strong opinions, great vulnerabilities, and with an especially excellent record collection. One night we all huddled in her studio (it was February, and there was plenty of snow on the ground) and shimmied to the Beastie Boys and Beck. Julia danced with a tremendous abandon and late into the night. Accordingly, I think her secret life as a go-go cage inhabitant is not far below the surface here either. Love is good, love is difficult, love is impossible, commercial culture is unavoidable, life is short, seize the day. What consolation is left? In Julia’s single-minded devotion to her series paintings, there is reifying possibility of effort. So this is the last exit on the highway of postmodernity, Jacquette indicates, where, convulsed in our nostalgia, we nonetheless get down to work.

By Rick Moody, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.

Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo