Orange Chair

Julia Hensley, Orange Chair, 1996, Acrylic on Bristol board, 19 x 24", private collection. Scan of slideIt was the mid 1990's. I was living in a 1500 square foot loft in Tacoma, WA, a former rag factory with a sea of cement floor, a dry-walled in bathroom, a high Doug fir-beam ceiling, and two grand arched windows at the far end that looked out across the tidal flats, or as I called it, The Wasteland.

I watched as workers built the new suspension bridge right opposite me, and to my right, the Washington History Museum.

In my palatial studio space, I made study after study of everything around me, from the grandly gritty views out the windows to rambling still lifes I would set up on a heavy octagonal table I got at an antique store (one of many in town), to the floor and walls and windows themselves, and sometimes, self-portraits in the enormous mirror that covered part of one wall. I worked constantly, and when I wasn't painting, I wrote songs about where I was living.

I was hard in love with the down and dusty, fallen-on-tough-times city of Tacoma. I don't think it registered that I was living at the base of Hilltop, one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the region. The University of Washington expansion was barely beginning, and Starbucks, the Museum of Glass, and the new Tacoma Art Museum that have transformed the Commerce Street/Pacific Ave neighborhood where I lived were still years away.

There was one tavern, the Swiss, a rambling haven of beer-on-tap and sandwiches, with darts and pool and rock and blues bands on the weekends, which was the deciding factor when I moved in. As long as I had one decent place to hang out, I knew I'd be okay.

I photographed abandoned 19th-century industrial buildings, walked the railroad tracks behind my building, rode my too-big mountain bike along the waterfront and out into the industrial Wasteland. I never got used to the smell of the pulp mill, but I painted the steam and smoke rising from its stacks.

I painted and painted and painted.

Orange Chair is a night view, from a time when I was experimenting with acrylics, using black for shadows, and soaking in Diebenkorn. At the time I signed my work 'Julia' or even just 'J'. The painting is now in the collection of a Californian - and how that came to be is another story.

What's in a Name?