Trigger warning: This episode contains reference to physical abuse from an intimate partner.
In this episode of the Artist/Mother Podcast, I interview lifelong artist and 2022 “Painting at Night” juror Judith Braun. At 74, Judith’s artwork is prolific, and she’s explored artistic media across genres. From figurative painting, to video, to finger painting with charcoal, her uniquely identifiable work has spanned decades and has solidified her place in history as a true artistic powerhouse.
She defines her current work by its abstraction, its black and white color palette, and its symmetry. She describes these parameters as “a trigger and a filter for my imagination”. And this, I came to find out, is a theme in Judith’s life and work. As if she’s casually mentioning what she had for breakfast, she shares lofty goals set, met, and exceeded with finesse and grace. This appears to be mostly because of her unique viewpoint in goal-setting. For Judith, setting specific limitations merely gives her room to explore. She calls this “freedom through discipline”. She explains, “No one ever thinks, you know ‘it’s such a limitation that you play the trumpet’”. And she’s right.
In chatting with her, it’s obvious that her passion, candor, and seemingly impossible drive set her apart as a human and as an artist. “You’ve gotta do something that gets the ball rolling,” she says, between smiles. In knowing her, it’s easy to see how she does.
This, of course, does not mean her life has been without adversity. Judith describes being a person who sustained prolonged violence from an intimate partner even while pregnant with her daughter. She shared, “I knew I was pregnant … and something clicked in me … I couldn’t wait to see if he was going to continue being violent because the mother in me immediately knew I had to leave. And leave, actually, is never the right word. It’s escape.” At the forefront of her early parenting experiences, Judith was forced to focus on keeping herself and her child safe. She openly shares that she wasn’t even thinking about art. She was focused on survival. “I didn’t [leave] to protect myself … as soon as I knew I was a mother, I totally knew I had to protect my baby”.
As a single mom, once safe and settled again in Albany, the hometown of her childhood, Judith found time and space to create. She described herself as a “maker of things,” making the distinction that becoming an artist happened once she was in graduate school. It was during this time period, in fact, that she earned her M.F.A. from the University of Albany.
She has pursued a rich and vibrant creative life ever since, though it wasn’t an altogether continuous road. At 47, Judith found herself newly divorced. Her daughter was just beginning college, and without the financial stability her marriage had afforded her, she knew she had to put herself out there in a new way. Feeling the pressure of her new circumstances, Judith’s art career was unexpectedly put on hold. For nine years. “I had started showing in New York, but now I was living in New York and didn’t have any money,” She continued, “… I had a nine year break. …The art world doesn’t wait for you. The wagon, you know? It just keeps going without you.“ She continues, describing what she defines as her proudest moment, “I went from being in the art world, being considered an emerging artist … And I dropped out for nine years. The idea of getting back into that when I didn’t have my friends and connections anymore? The fact that I did that is the most remarkable to me. And it’s because I really decided to do it”.
As if her story isn’t enough, throughout this interview, she describes the artwork she’s “known” for, how she defines success, using humor in her work, and how she expresses her ideals through the art she creates.
In this episode, Judith shares with the Artist/Mother Podcast community what must be the secrets to her success as a human, a woman, an artist, a parent, and as an “artist grandmother”.
Biggest Art Crush: Laurie Anderson
Favorite Place: “Anywhere there’s an art show” / Brussels and Vienna
Favorite meal: “Health food. Fresh Vegetables …” and, she adds, “French fries”.
Shout-out: Rodrigo Mallea Lira
To see more of Judith’s work please visit her website and follow her on IG @Judithannbraun.
The Artist/Mother podcast is created and hosted by Kaylan Buteyn. You can see more of Kaylan’s work on her website or connect with her on Instagram @kaylanbuteyn