In the Homer art scene, artist Julianne Tomich defies categorization. Comfortable in both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional art, she’s as hard working as she is versatile — and witty.
She’s the kind of artist you might run into at a coffee shop, sit down and chat with for a moment, and find yourself hours later talking about moose, small towns, hillbillies and the problem of finding good Indian food. Last Friday, her latest show, “Bears in Flowers,” opened at Grace Ridge Brewery — the only First Friday show in town, it turned out.
Playful and spirited, Tomich has a dry humor that comes through in her work, whether it’s of bears romping in poppies, windows transformed into art or epic murals telling the maritime past, present and future of Homer. Sculptor, painter and potter, Tomich, 34, doesn’t let one media define her. Lately she’s been contemplating as subject wild animals that can kill you, but she also has a fascination with coffee — lots of coffee.
“I want to build the perfect coffee maker,” she said. “I’m all about coffee, especially with a 3-year old.”
Along with creating the next cool thing, what Tomich really wants to do is find good studio space, maybe combined with a coffee shop.
“I think coffee culture is good. I’d like to see more, like speakeasy coffee shops — people getting together and causing trouble, making art,” she said.
From the Ohio Valley area in southeast Ohio, she grew up the daughter of teachers who lived in a 200-year-old farmhouse that once had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Compared to her hometown of 200 people, Homer’s like a booming metropolis in her experience.
“Sometimes I think Homer is too big. Sometimes I think it’s too small,” she said. “When I want Indian food it’s too small, too isolated then.”
Tomich got an art degree in ceramics and sculpture, her real love, at Ohio State University, Columbus. After college she painted murals for Walt Disney, worked as a stage hand for Cirque de Soleil and “did the usual art stuff. I did a lot of catering to make money,” Tomich said.
She met her husband, Nick Poolos, in Ohio, and they moved to Alaska in 2011 after she read an article about homeless people in Anchorage. She’d never thought of Alaska before, but wanted to live near the mountains where she could snowboard. Poolos looked around and found some jobs in his specialty, information technology, in Sitka, Homer and a few other places. They decided to move to Homer because of its art community.
“We saw some things about hippies burning baskets. We thought, OK, that’s interesting,” Tomich said.
Poolos took a job with the city of Homer as its IT director. Tomich and Poolos have a 3-year-old daughter, Xenia. They live on Diamond Ridge, prime bear and moose country.
A few months after moving to Homer she looked out her window and saw a big brown bear. In her artist’s statement, she joked about how before moving here 2 percent of her time she thought about bears and now she thinks about them 30 to 50 percent of the time. Oh, and moose. She almost got stomped by a moose once.
“I hadn’t done this much wildlife, kind of realistically stuff before Alaska,” she said.
Tomich previously did a show, “Homer Through the Looking Glass,” using found windows, at Fireweed Gallery in 2015. She painted a mural as a 1-percent-for-art commission at the Homer Harbor Office. She also has shown work in group shows, mostly recently last October for the Homer Council on the Arts Day of the Dead show.
“Bears and Flowers” came about partly as a way to calm her fears about bears. Tomich mentioned the show’s largest painting, “Bear Poppy,” of two bears in a field of red poppies, to Sherry Stead, co-owner of Grace Ridge Brewery with her husband, Don.
“I have this painting. I’ve had it for a year. You want it sometime?” Tomich said to Stead. “She said ‘Sure.’ But I can’t have one bear so I painted more.”
The show includes smaller paintings as well as a life-size sculpture of a bear head. One painting appears to be of flowers and stems, but if you look closer at it, little bear heads poke out of the leaves and petals. There’s a charming creepiness to it, like bears lurk everywhere and are ready to spring out and pounce.
“I don’t know if it was subconscious, if I started painting the bears with the flowers,” Tomich said. “I tried to make the bears beautiful with the flowers and the poppies.”
At her First Friday show, Tomich, worked the room, dressed in hip Homer couture of a thrift-shop jacket held together with safety-pin buttons, a frilled skirt and tights. She asked people to tell he their bear stories, and because every Alaskan has at least one bear story, she got an earful.
“I got some good ones. Bjørn (Olson’s) was terrifying,” she said of the Homer adventurer’s encounter with a sow that stalked them in Katmai.
Olson and his hiking partners escaped from the attack only when a friend shot the sow point-blank in the face with bear spray.
After bears, Tomich wants to paint moose, equally terrifying to her.
“Every day I’m looking at a moose in my window. We have raspberry bushes against my house,” she said. “I have heart attacks on a daily basis, sometimes three a night. … With a kid especially, you’re on high alert. That’s another show. I know every mother has a moose story or a close encounter.”