Nashville native Julia Martin identifies far more as an artist than as a gallerist. Her namesake gallery, located in the Wedgewood-Houston district, has become a staple in the local art scene over the last six years. Fostering the work of both emerging and established artists, the space focuses on contemporary art exhibitions.
Martin didn’t have any designs on being an artist until late in high school when a dedicated art teacher steered her towards a summer program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “He was excited and I was excited, and it really pushed me,” she explained. “I was a joke. I was so out of my league, but I was hooked and determined.” Martin attended college at the School of Visual Arts’ satellite branch in Savannah, Georgia, which closed following a lawsuit. “I was completely disenchanted about college after that, but I got a really solid foundation,” she says. “I started painting really hard and figuring it out on my own.” Soon, Martin booked a solo show. She became a sought-after figurative artist, primarily known for painting women’s faces in an array of vibrant hues.
Martin prefers to work off-the-cuff. “When I try to force a thing or sketch it out, I don’t know what it is in me, but it’s just so frustrating,” she says. “I try too much. My brain doesn’t work that way.” Martin finds freedom and catharsis from unleashing with color. “It feels otherworldly sometimes,” she says. “You don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s sort of like you’re channeling from the ether.”
Even some of her gallery shows have unfolded spontaneously, as a gut response to the unexpected. In 2016, a bullet penetrated three walls of Martin’s space. That same morning, she read about five police officers who were shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. “It was a really scary thing,” Martin shared. “The officer that came to file the report stayed and talked for a really long time. He surprised me with the generosity of his time and thoughts.” At the cop’s suggestion, Martin hosted an art show centered around the conversation of gun violence and the hope for change. “I think that it’s become a really valuable part of the community,” Martin says of the gallery. “I honestly don’t think I even believed it would be around this long, and now I feel like I want it to be around forever, for as long as I’m breathing.”
Collaboration is crucial to Martin, and it’s what she says the art scene in Nashville is built on. She notes a sense of camaraderie among gallery owners, which she hopes helps boost the support of the artists they showcase. The gallerists get together and communicate regularly. “In our last meeting, someone threw out the idea, since so many of us work with artists in similar cities and regions, of sharing trucks to get artwork delivered,” she says. “I’m so happy that I’m a part of it, in this time when minds and hearts are open, and things are developing and growing as a product of us working together.”
Julia Martin Gallery is located at 444 Humphreys St., Suite A. Hours are Noon-6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and by appointment on Wednesdays. Admission is free. Learn more about the Wedgewood-Houston art crawl, held each first Saturday monthly, here: am-wh.com.