Judy Onofrio, Hold, 2015, animal bones, 49 in. x 41 in. x 12 in.

How would you describe the work that you do?

The work celebrates the ongoing cycle of ever‐changing life, . . . filled with expectation, anticipation and the unknown. Through my intuitive studio practice I seek to move beyond a specific narrative. . . . I want to reach toward a universal experience of beauty that speaks to the transitory nature of life. 

Judy Onofrio, Hold, in the studio

Are there ways in which you intend your work to challenge the viewer?

My work always deals with ambiguity, mystery and ceremony. I ask the viewer to engage in my belief system. Seeing the work in aggregate allows the viewer to experience bones merely as a diverse and available material rather than as a static entity with one fixed meaning. . . . Hopefully my sculpture leads the viewer into a contemplation of mortality and transcendence.

Is there something you are currently working on that you are particularly excited about?

In the studio

At the moment I am interested in creating motion in my work. Most recent work is using many varying kinds of horn, jawbones and teeth and certain parts of backbones. The combination of these material have a visual relationship to each other and come together as moving form.

How do you know when you have been successful?

Success is when I finish a work and know it is right. . . . Then there are the successes that come from exhibiting, and receiving peer and audience acknowledgement,  insightful articles written about the work, and connections that lead to future exhibitions.

Why did you choose to pursue the life of a professional artist?

My feet hit earth as an artist. I grew up by the ocean where I collected and invented my own visual world. By the time I was 21 years old, I had three children and was juggling a busy life as mother while taking clay classes, painting and experimenting with materials. Becoming a professional artist for me was an organic experience. . . . Outside of a formal art education, I found my way with a lot of help from my artist friends and discoveries though my own constant curiosity. . . . Gaining the respect of my colleagues was my foremost intent. I love what I do and it is a passion that drives me.

In your opinion, how is being a woman artist in 2015 different from what it might have been like one, two, three or even four decades ago?

In the early 1970s I was asked to serve on a Minnesota State Arts Board panel and I was the only female on it. The galleries were showing primarily male artists. The colleges were hiring primarily males in the Art Departments. There were few opportunities for women artists. . . . Essentially there was an exclusive male club.

Does personal history work its way into your practice? How might who you are be reflected in your current work?

My father was an admiral in the Navy. . . . He was extremely organized and a collector of stamps, books, tools and many other objects [that] he brought back from all over the  world. My mother was an artist and antique collector. My Great Aunt Trude was an outsider artist and eccentric role model. I spent a great amount of time with her as a child.  . . . All of these influences were loaded with visual images. I spent hours by the ocean observing everything from what fisherman had in their nets to the boardwalks  themselves, which were loaded with trinkets and junk jewelry. My current work using collected animal bones comes naturally from all these influence.

In the studio

In the studio

Are there certain ways in which you identify yourself as a feminist artist?

Judy Onofrio

My work is clearly feminine. My practice has always set aside time to mentor female artists. I believe this has been my strongest contribution, that is, to be a strong role model and to be able to share that and set an example. . . . I have been fortunate to have worked with woman studio assistants and have watched them grow and become professional artists. In turn, I have learned from them as the result of sharing and collaborating.


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