Judi Ekholm Keeps Creating

Judi Ekholm has a big show – more than 40 paintings – opening at Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Fish Creek on May 27. But just don’t call it a “retrospective.”

Although she started painting in oils when she was about 8, and she’ll turn 82 in the fall, this is not a retrospective – all but one or two of the works in the exhibition have been created since last August.

The exhibit also includes some innovations in style and technique, said Ekholm, who has been showing at Edgewood for 20 years.

“Some of the paintings are on wood panels, which was a new surface for me,” she said. “I started trying it a year before, but I didn’t feel I had it under control for a while. That surface lends itself to some deeper color. I like the fact that I don’t have to fool with a framer.”

Ekholm is known for tightly framed compositions of brightly colored flowers, but this show has landscapes with a broader view, more abstraction and even, she said, some movement. JR Jarosh, who owns Edgewood Orchard Galleries with his wife, Nell, said he was impressed with her innovations.

“These are new directions even after decades as a painter, and they have been well received,” he said. 

Ekholm said her paintings start with a feeling about a place.

“You have to turn that part of your brain on and see what inspires you,” she said. “I have to roll it around in my head first, and then I do drawings and maybe a watercolor.”  

Even when Ekholm and her husband, Reed, are in Florida for the winter, most of her paintings are about, or inspired by, places in Door County.

“I watch Reed paint watercolors, and then I get disgusted because he can do it so much better,” she said.

Her main objection to the medium is that watercolors are difficult and don’t give an artist a chance at makeovers.

“I like to put a shape down and then put another shape down, and play with the shapes, connecting them,” Ekholm explained. “With paintings of fields you can move things around, and you can ad lib.”

Kangaroo Lake is a favorite place for her to get inspired for paintings because it provides deep perspective.

“You can’t always get that in Door County because it is so flat, but we drive by the lake four or five times a week in the summer,” she said. “It has inspired a lot of paintings, and it changes all the time.” 

Maybe it’s the water spirits, she added.

In at least some of her recent work, Ekholm has used a free-flowing brush.

“I am getting tired of all that precise stuff. Sometimes you just don’t feel like painting tight – you’d rather play more. I’d like to loosen up more.”

Several paintings on aluminum are hanging in the Edgewood Orchard Galleries’ outdoor courtyard. Ekholm’s first painting on aluminum is a mural hanging on the wall of the Egg Harbor municipal building. The Public Arts Initiative of Egg Harbor asked her to create a piece, and she spent a few months researching before settling on acrylic paint over aluminum, with several coats of a special acrylic varnish.

“It’s labor intensive if you do it right,” she said, but even after a decade of exposure to bright sunlight, the mural has held up well.

“I get hung up on doing metals,” Ekholm said. “I love doing them; I can’t leave them alone because they are play; and I really think art is play, and they can be joyful. I played a lot last year.”

She figures a painting will take a week, but some can take three weeks. And she has posted several paintings on Facebook as they develop.

“Sometimes I have three or four paintings going at the same time,” Ekholm said. “I had three 30-inch-by-40-inch paintings with a lot of blue, so I mix up the paint for all three at once so I don’t waste it. I love blue. I see blue everywhere when I am in Door County – blue water and so many blue flowers. But I also love red, and I will sneak in some yellow.”

Jarosh said they have a painting on aluminum hanging outside their Jacksonport home, where it provides a welcome blast of color through the winter.

Get a glimpse of Ekholm’s latest colorful works at Edgewood Orchard Galleries, 4140 Peninsula Players Road in Fish Creek, where her work is on display through June 3.