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Beneath the Top Layer: Julia Gonen - Collage Artist

Isaac Asimov, a prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy as well as a Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University, once was quoted saying, ‘there is an art to science and science in art; the two are not enemies, but different aspects of the whole’. So when Julia Gonen, an artist based out of Thornhill, Ontario, who also worked as a Naturopathic doctor until she retired says, ‘there was always a pull for me towards art on one hand, and science on the other,’ I remembered Asimov’s words. Instantly I felt that Gonen has been working towards understanding ‘the whole’ her whole life.

Black and white image of a women with shoulder length hair smiling at camera.
Artist - Julia Gonen

‘I think being an artist is an innate part of me’, Gonen says. ‘I’m better at expressing myself visually than with words.’ As far as the battle between art and science to win her over, after years of high school art classes and summer art programs, and despite the fact she was accepted into a Mathematics program, she chose a Fine Arts degree.

During this period of study, Gonen, active in the arts community, even started a not-for-profit gallery. She graduated with a BFA, majoring in photography and multi-media.

But, the sciences still beckoned and she soon found herself studying and completing pre-med courses at the University of Toronto, and then continued her studies to become a Naturopathic Doctor. Over the course of 12 years, Gonen practised Naturopathic Medicine, taught nutrition and science courses at college and had a child. It was in an agricultural village, or moshav, in Israel with her husband and daughter that Gonen felt inspired to create again. During her four years in Israel, she began to paint again with a small group and had a small exhibit.

Returning to Canada and deciding to focus on her family and career, art making again stopped. However, in 2018, Gonen says she ‘went through some sort of mental emotional upheaval that brought me back to art.’ And since she retired from practicing Naturopathic Medicine, she had time to devote to her art and to herself. ‘Basically, art saved me. With fervor I began making collage in a very intuitive process where I shut off my thinking brain entirely. This flow state was pure and raw. It was in that state I was able to process the world around me by making art.’ Gonen has found her stride with her art practise and is excited by the connections people can have to work.

Adept at making collages from everything from vintage magazines to butter packaging, and proficient at making exquisite multi-layered collages in resin, Gonen explores freely. Her work often shares inspirational cutouts, like a ribbon that says ‘I believe in magic’, ‘This is just the beginning’, or ‘Have a nice day’ as seen in her artwork entitled ‘Let Them’. There is positivity in each piece and I think this speaks to the mindset in which the artist finds herself creating.

She is also propelled by the discovery process that comes with pushing your body to the extremes. Currently training in both Crossfit and powerlifting, both of which require an intensity of mind and body, Gonen shows us she is currently challenging herself in a number of ways.

‘What are you capable of?’

After personally working in gyms for over 15 years, teaching yoga, competing in fitness competitions and helping others to do so too, I can say that the answer to this question is very much part science and part art. Scientifically, you have to understand how the body gains strength and muscle mass, how it changes to various training regimens, how to nourish it, and how to let it rest. But, one must also train their spirits and gain mental fortitude to accomplish what was once out of reach. This, I can assure you is the realm of art. To visualize your body doing something or becoming capable of something it currently isn’t, and then using tools to achieve that is an artistic pursuit. It is why I stayed in the industry for so long, because I too feel the synchronicity between science and art. My body was my medium for a long time.

Gonen, obviously enjoying working on her physical and mental body as a medium too, wishes to continue pushing herself to the limits and hopes for powerlifting and Crossfit competitions abroad. Her art making isn’t left out of this need for expansion abroad either, as she is keen to meet new artists and show her art to more people, as connecting with folks though her collage artworks is also thrilling for her.

What I find interesting is Gonen’s exploration and pushing at her current boundaries within her art, that matches the need to push her body in new ways. When asked about how she sees her work evolving, she says, ‘my work has been quite maximal in the past with quite a bit of detail. But in my soul, I'm a minimalist. I like quietude and simplicity, yet at the same time I like having little ‘easter eggs’ in my art pieces to find, like little clues towards some type of meaning. I’m currently in a shift with how I work, doing some experimentation. I’m thinking of moving towards canvas - to painting, but with elements of collage. We’ll see how it evolves. I work extremely intuitively so I don’t overthink what I'm doing or where it’s going.’

As a person, Gonen characterizes the quote from Asimov, and shows us the perceived duality of artist and scientist flourishing within a single whole. In keeping with her positive and uplifting messages buried within her collage artworks, check out the bottom left corner of this piece entitled ‘Free Bird: Look Ahead”

‘Who Knows exactly who she is?’

I am still not entirely sure, but I know for certain Gonen is in pursuit of finding out and I am happy to look for the clues within her artworks to connect further.

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