You may not have noticed Julia Anello in the middle of with her sketchpad and her cappuccino, but she’s noticed you.
In fact, if you’ve spent any time in Main Street’s teeming coffee shop on a weekday morning, this affable gray-haired lady probably has a sketch of you. She’s happily given many of her practice sketches to patrons curious about what she’s up to, and why she's staring at them.
For many of these coffee-drinkers who haven't seen her real work, her paintings, here's their chance: Anello's third solo show at the gallery that represents her, Images Gallery in Briarcliff Manor, is up until December 1. But rather than portraits of people, it's mostly fruit, fish and other assorted oddities that get her full attention in oil and watercolor.
Coffee Labs provides a home for her sketch sessions, but this long-term artist and Sleepy Hollow resident goes back to her home studio in the Manor to paint. Her still life paintings seem anything but still, instead rather vibrating with color, texture, density, detail. She applies much of what she learns sketching people to fruit. The fruit is “organic, has DNA, rots," Anello said. "The faster the fruit rots, the faster I have to paint. Cherries move fast!”
The process of artmaking is challenging for Anello, even after so many years of honing her craft. “I am almost always unhappy with the outcome," she said. "When I first start, I have lots of hope and then you can’t reach what you set out to do. On the whole, it’s pretty stressful.”
You wouldn't know the process is stressful though to watch her at work in the coffee shop. Anello’s story seems to have entered a new, more peaceful, phase in the last years, of a mother whose children are all moved out of the house. Her youngest graduated from college a year ago, and now she has the time to contemplate painting “bigger” again like she used to, perhaps returning to full-size portraits (otherwise the subjects look like dolls, she said), and moving back to the oil paints that were too toxic when she had kids around.
“It’s amazing how much time you end up having,” she said. “I get to work so much more now, and am a better painter for it.”
She always works from life, whether the subjects be still or moving, like people, or her latest interest: the fish in the ponds on her property. “I am horrible if I don’t work from life," Anello said. "I like practicing doing people. They are complex and they move so fast, it’s good for my facility.”
Here at Coffee Labs she sits back and becomes the chronicler of the working, the talking, the silent. She lists off the parents with children whose resemblances she investigates, the medical students studying who sit in the same positions for hours, the writers who can concentrate despite the chaos, poets, pastors creating their sermons, college professors grading papers, the small business people seeking investors, and, of course, people she recognizes, friends of her kids. “It’s unnerving when I see them here.”
She grew up in Queens, the product of a neighborhood in which neighbors didn’t know neighbors, so she is thrilled to create a community right here in our town coffee shop. “I love the idea that this is like a neighborhood, all range of ages and types. You see everybody.”
Does her familiarity with so many customers coming in and out of the place interfere with her work? Anello said people tend to leave her alone when she’s drawing, and “I’m a pretty anonymous looking person, which I find I like.”
She always stakes out the same place, at the cluster of tables in the center of the room next to the roasting machine. She has also mapped out the best time to encounter the highest density of customers, from about 9:30 to 10:45 most weekdays.
The artists she most admires – Alice Neel, Caravaggio – don’t do still lifes, Anello said. She’s eager to do people again in paint, "but you can’t wake up in the middle of the night and get someone to model for you." For now, there’s Coffee Labs by day and pencils.
You can see Anello's work up until Dec 1 at the Images Gallery, 1157 Pleasantville Road, Briarcliff Manor, open Tues-Sat from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.