2019 Viola Award Finalist for Excellence in Visual Arts

Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra is a painting and video project which explores the gradual dissolution of culture in contemporary society through the symbolic ruin of a personal and cultural icon,the violin. Using the violin as a metaphor, Flagstaff artist Julie Comnick raises questions about the relationship between advancing technology and diminishing cultural heritage. Comnick invites the audience to consider what makes the instrument precious in his or her own experience, and the impact of its loss.

Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra was on view at the Coconino Center for the Arts from January 9 through February 10, 2018. A members’ preview reception was held on January 6, followed by a public opening reception on January 13. At both receptions, artist Julie Comnick performed a solo violin piece, and was accompanied by members of the Flagstaff Symphony at the public reception. Artist Julie Comnick presented an artist talk with the public reception.

Julie Comnick’s paintings and drawings engage the pictorial languages of representation and narration to pose questions about social circumstances and practices. The roots of this project began in 2010. In 2012, Julie exhibited a few of the completed paintings and drawings in one-person shows at theSamHill Warehouse Gallery at Prescott College and then at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum in 2014. Recently, The Phoenix New Times named her project Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra as one of the top ten Phoenix art exhibits for 2015. In 2016, another version of Arrangement travelled to the Firehouse Art Center in Longmont, CO and to the Hardesty Art Center in Tulsa, OK.

The final exhibition, as displayed at the Coconino Center for the Arts, included twelve large paintings (80” x 95”) showing various stages of violins burning, along with three charcoal drawings, a video of the burning and a large-scale installation of music stands, arranged in arcs to imitate the seating of an orchestra. As viewers entered the gallery, they were met by the symbolic roar of the title painting, and a vision of fire in full-combustion in the two paintings that flanked it. In the main space of the gallery, nine additional paintings were laid out in chronological order, from pre-combustion to full flame to the next morning’s dead and cold embers encircling the skeletal remains of the instruments.

The first of these paintings was a landscape depicting a pile of glistening violins reflecting the evening light, waiting for their demise. The pile of violins, the focal point, became figurative. The fire also symbolized a figure, the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio, with the violins creating contrasting movements of light and dark. But then the figure gave way to something even more dramatic and powerful, giving space and depth to the mystical, because the next seven paintings were literally not only a reflection and focus on light (fire), but also a meditation on the darkness (the foreground and background) that surrounded that light, much like the contemplative color field paintings of Barnett Newman. The exhibit then changed course as abstract expressionism moved into the realm of three-dimensional time and space as the viewers walked into the center of the gallery where they encountered a sea of one hundred music stands representing the silent witnesses to the destruction and mystery in the paintings and drawings. As a whole, Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra evoked the chapel created by another color field painter, Mark Rothko – both standing as contemplative spaces within which viewers could think about issues related to culture, technology and loss.

The importance of Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra is further confirmed by its acceptance for exhibition at three different national venues in 2019: Spartanburg Art Museum (South Carolina); Diablo Valley College (California), and ArtSpace Gallery (Virginia).

Her project was supported in part by a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts which receives support from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Julie lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she is a member of the School of Art Faculty at Northern Arizona University. Her teaching experience includes interdisciplinary courses in painting, drawing, foundations, art theory and public art. She received an MFA in Painting from Montana State University and a BA from The Evergreen State College.

Artist Website
Project Page
Project Video
AZ Daily Sun Article
Sedona Red Rock News Article

Support from the community: 

“We were struck by the beauty of the exhibit as a whole, as well as each individual painting and drawing.”