Julie Tomich is into creepy things. She wears a colorful skirt with the skeleton of a poodle painted on it. Her favorite artists are Tim Burton and Vincent Van Gogh, and she enjoys poking around the dump outside town.
“I love spooky, weird stuff and nature, both of those, and sometimes they’re the same thing,” she says.
But for the most part, the works in Tomich’s new show, “Homer Through the Looking Glass,” at Fireweed Gallery through Sept. 20, are less spooky and more nature-oriented. Many of the pieces are refurbished windows painted with delicate natural scenes: a mother moose and her babies, cormorants out on Gull Island, flowers with the mountains in the background. All the paintings are based on photos Tomich took around Homer.
Much of Tomich’s work is recognizable around town: she paints doors at the Homer Theatre for special occasions, and she decorated the windows at K Bay Caffe. Perhaps her most prominent piece in Homer is her mural inside the new Harbormaster’s Office. She says that the mural is meant to be a loose interpretation of the Spit’s history.
Tomich and her husband moved to Homer four years ago from Columbus, Ohio. She has a sculpture degree from Ohio State University, and before moving to Alaska, she had several art-related jobs: she painted murals for the Walt Disney Co., worked as a stagehand for Cirque de Soleil and did commercial sign painting.
Tomich’s exploration with window art began when she was living close to several art galleries in Columbus. She started doing acrylic paintings on the windows of her townhouse for gallery-hoppers to see as they walked by: flowers, and more unique images, too.
“I did Sweeney Todd. I got a little out of hand with that one and might have stained my doorstep with fake blood,” she says. For those who don’t know, Sweeney Todd is the title character in Stephen Sondheim’s musical (and Tim Burton’s subsequent film adaptation) about a cannibalistic barber.
When she got positive feedback, Tomich found old windows to paint.
Moving to Alaska to be closer to the mountains, she had to leave her old creations behind — big glass pieces are tough to transport 5,000 miles, she points out. It took her five months in Homer to find a new source: “They were just lying in people’s barns out East End.”
Each window in this collection took Tomich around 35 hours of work.
“There’s a lot of watching paint dry and scraping,” she says.
Her 9-month-old daughter, Xelia, is a Homer native and Tomich’s helper in the studio — when she’s not eating glitter or sticking her hand in paint.
Moving to Homer was a big change for an artist from the big city. There are things Tomich misses — like Indian food and the excitement of living in a college town. She’s still getting used to how much people in Alaska drive.
“Sometimes I’m like, what am I doing here? This is insane. … I need to build a 20-foot fence so my baby doesn’t get mauled by a bear,” she says.
While the intensity of Alaska can be overwhelming, it also makes life both exciting and fulfilling, she says: “You’ve never skied until you’ve skied with the fear of being killed by a moose, seeing people running the other way because a moose is chasing them.”
She hopes that “Homer Through the Looking Glass” will remind people to appreciate what an incredible place they’re in.
One day, Tomich hopes to have her own kiln and ceramics studio. In the meantime, she’s hoping to do more murals around town.
When the show closes, she plans to keep most of the windows and give some away as gifts.
“I’ve had some break, and that’s always a little edgy, especially with a 9-month-old. But they’re kind of like light boxes,” she says.
With a lamp behind them, the glass sculptures brighten Tomich’s home during her favorite time of year: winter. It’s fitting, for an artist whose favorite things juxtapose the dark and the light.