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Home arrow ART arrow [INTERVIEW] Nature, mother. Judi R. Harvest, artist and beekeper
[INTERVIEW] Nature, mother. Judi R. Harvest, artist and beekeper
Written by Fabio Marzari   

judi-honeygardenimg_9681_32919094684_o.jpg«Nunc age, naturas apibus quas Iuppiter ipse

addidit, expediam, pro qua mercede canoros

Curetum sonitus crepitantiaque aera secutae

Dictaeo caeli regem pavere sub antro.

Solae communes natos, consortia tecta

urbis habent magnisque agitant sub legibus aevum,

et patriam solae et certos novere penates,

venturaeque hiemis memores aestate laborem

experiuntur et in medium quaesita reponunt»
(Virgilio, Georgiche)


Virgil and bees are an unusual way to open an interview to an artist, but we owe it to Judi Harvest. Bees are her passion and her source of inspiration. No quirkiness – only, a strong feeling of responsibility towards Nature and its harmony. Harvest alternates elegance, culture, and style with her beekeeper’s overall. Her petite frame didn’t stop her from creating art that looks very masculine at first glance, though it shows all the sensitiveness a woman can have. American art historian Barbara Rose wrote about her: «Born in the exotic vacation land of Miami, Florida, Judi Harvest has never forgotten the colours of the flamingos, both real and artificial, nor of the tropical foliage of her native city. Her experience as an art student, both in Italy, where she studied with such masters as Jannis Kounellis and in the U.S. where her teachers were among the greatest painters of the New York School formed her vision. As a mature artist she remains faithful to the traditions of painterly painting, assemblage and of representation that she absorbed as a young artist which continue to inform her art... Judi Harvest’s life in Italy, her second country, have marked her art since her tears as a student. She has never forgotten the lessons of the old masters and their vigorous brushwork and attention to drawing and detail». Exhibition Beauty and the Beast, at Palazzo Tiepolo Passi until November 26, includes Harvest’s Propagation Bees+Seeds. We will see in the interview how bees are a metaphor for a world in constant, dramatic change. Judi is queen: in art, life, commitment, and style.


Why bees? and how do bees influence your art?
I began working with live bees as a beekeeper in 2006 when I read about Colony Collapse Disorder, which is the name given to the disappearance of honeybees. Beekeepers found their beehives empty due to neonicotine-based pesticide sprayed on plants and trees which causes the bees to lose their orientation and makes them unable to find their way home. They die alone as one honeybee cannot live without their hive, family, and Queen. I knew I had to do something and fast. In 2013, I created the Murano Honey Garden and installed four honeybee hives on a forgotten field behind the glass factory in Sacca Serenella. Today it hosts seven hives and an abundance of fruit and flowers, birds, butterflies, and ladybugs. It brings peace to the eyes and souls of many including the glass masters after a day spent in front of blazing furnaces. Gardens heal. Soil can be replenished and restored and this is my message with this artwork. I am very proud of this garden. For me it is a miracle. It is necessary to have a mission and Murano and Honeybees both need us. I observed honeybees, read many books about honeybees including the most influential for me, Rudolf Steiner’s Bee Lectures. I studied the Waggle Dance, which is the honeybee’s dance and communication system and began a series of large paintings by dancing around the canvas with loaded paintbrushes as if I was a honeybee, foraging for flowers. This inspired a series of oil paintings on linen, Swarm, Nuptial Flight and Red Bee are in the current exhibition at Palazzo Tiepolo Passi. This year I created human scale Honeycomb paintings on exhibit for The Beauty and the Beast exhibition. I am a painter, I discovered and fell in love with glass when I lived in Venice from 1987-91.

The message of bees.
dsc03739.jpgI believe honeybees are messengers, when they die or disappear the message is clear that our environment is in serious trouble. Real Murano glass is also disappearing, displaced by cheap knock-offs, poor imitations made for uninformed tourists. I believe heritage, quality materials, and tradition are fundamental in creating all art. The theme that is constant in my work is the fragility of life and the search for beauty. Glass is the medium that embodies this best for me.
I do not approach art from a female point of view. In fact, many people think my art was made by a male artist. I have studied the role and life of the queen bee over the past eleven years; I understand how fundamental women are to the environment. I also look to scientist Rachel Carson, artists Lee Krasner, Lee Bontecou, Louise Nevelson, Giorgia O’Keefe, Louise Bourgeois, and many more. They worked, researched, wrote, and created great art. Beautiful, strong, timely, and important work is the best influence and inspiration. I believe women work harder and don’t give up.

September 16, a day dedicated to bees.
On September 16, I will host a conference at Palazzo Franchetti “Cross Pollination: Honeybees and Murano Glass”. The panel will comprise three Murano glass masters, three beekeepers, two scientists and me discussing the similarities, dangers and solutions for these two fragile and endangered colonies of beauty. This is a very difficult moment for life on earth. Climate change is not a new subject however it is a more urgent now and it is clearly humans (fuel emissions, chemicals, pesticides, plastics, modified hormone injected foods, to name a few) causing obvious effects, resulting in flooding, excessive high heat temperatures, melting icebergs, melting frozen seed banks and the dying off of many species including fish, birds, bees, butterflies, bats, plants, and people. We saw this in New York with Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and in Venice with Acqua Alta twelve months a year, arriving unexpectedly. It is my hope and the goal of this conference to discuss the problems we face and present solutions we can all employ in our daily lives to help the situation. Awareness is the first step but action and improving our planet and the soil is the goal. Everything starts with the soil and a seed. This is the subject of my current exhibition “Propagation: Bees + Seeds” at Palazzo Tiepolo Passi with Beauty and the Beast.

Your exhibition at Palazzo Tiepolo Passi: Beauty and the Beast.
I believe art heals. It helps bring awareness and inspiration to subjects otherwise difficult to approach and embrace. Bees are not thought of as an exciting subject or sexy enough to draw attention but they desperately need awareness. I believe artists have a responsibility to use talent and skills in a positive way to help the environment. Many art supplies and glass materials come from the earth.
In today’s world, we cannot afford to be in denial. Make something beautiful with a message and hopefully, like a flower to a bee, it will draw people in. My 2013 Denatured: Honeybees + Murano exhibition was risky for me, yet timely. It had a message and is still making a difference. The Murano Honey Garden I built and the honeybees have all multiplied and the flowers and trees have grown and borne fruit. This has been my most satisfying and rewarding artwork. And here we are four years later. I am just a worker bee.

judiharvesthive.jpgThe Venice of mass tourism, a place of no soul under the spell of the crowds.
I love Venice. I have been coming here since 1973 when I was a student at Tyler School of Art, in Rome. Venice has changed and not always good changes, yet when you are in love with a place, you may tolerate more. I say I am Veneziadipendente! Soul is something Venice has if you know where to look and who to talk to. But this is true anywhere. Soul-less travel is about speed. Venice is the opposite of speed and that is the incongruous aspect of mass tourism here. Venice was not made for mass tourism and that needs to change. The city needs to create more programs that help artists and artisans open shops, work here, and stay in business. I hate seeing cruise ships, trash, poorly behaved and badly dressed tourists. Unfortunately, this is a world-wide problem. New York is also full of tourists, trash, and high prices. Things are very complex and condensed in Venice, some days in summer are unbearable. Then the amazing sunset comes and the streets empty out, the city exhales and we fall in love with Venice again.
I believe The Venice Glass Week is a major step. This will bring attention and visitors who appreciate and support art and quality. Opening these types of quality aesthetic events is a very good start. The Biennale is another great event but the creative opportunities are not there long-term for Venice. After seven months, the tents roll up for another two years. To improve a city, there must be consistency and community and government support.

My Quality Venice is: Bar Nomboli and the family who make the best tramezzini in the world, the bar inside Caffè Florian and barman Maurizio. My Venice is the Rialto market and another near Chiesa dei Miracoli where the fruit looks like jewellery. My Venice is the people that take pride in their work and in their products, Murano with the furnaces blazing away, workers buzzing like bees… Sant’Erasmo festivals celebrating vegetables, riding a bicycle in Treporti where I buy plants for the Honey Garden, getting the front seat on vaporettos that are not crowded, the full moon on the Grand Canal and the Zattere after midnight, the Gianduiotto, cicheti, the Accademia Galleries any time, the island of San Giorgio to watch the sunset from the Church steps, the bookshop at Le Stanze del Vetro, Ca’ Rezzonico visiting the Longhi paintings and the turtles, the Carlo Scarpa garden at Querini Stampalia, Fortuny Museum all the time, a walk on the Lido beach in May or September, Campo Santo Stefano, the Jesuits’ Church with the marble carved drapes, the erboristerie and farmacie with beautiful painted jars and miracles, the artisans, masters of their crafts that make beautiful things by hand: Venetian beaded necklaces, shoes, Murano glass, marbleized paper and books  that you cannot and should not buy anywhere else…Venice is not a myth, it is a working, living island.

«Beauty and the Beast | Propagation: Bees + Seeds»
Until 26 November 2017

Palazzo Tiepolo Passi, San Polo - Venice