Satch, a.k.a. Julie Kern, was working as an executive in the world of retail banking when she became seriously ill in 2005. After a partial hysterectomy and an exit from her banking career, she turned to art.
In 2006 she arrived at a body of work — by putting together collages consisting of anatomical drawings and repurposed materials — called Body Parts.
This is also the title of her new work that, like her older body of work, is informed by her health issues and her occasionally fraught experiences in the male-dominated world of banking.
"So that was my first work out of the gate," says Kern. "And I just was ready to come back and revisit it again."
Since turning to art in a sustained way a decade ago, Kern has exhibited work in galleries in Chicago and London, as well as in solo shows in Indianapolis. Last year she opened the Satch Lost and Found Art Gallery/Studio in the CCIC.
Along the way, she had a hand in rewriting the book, as it were, on Hoosier art history. In 2006 Kern and her husband Ron, a golf course architect and photographer, purchased a large amount of work by Indiana native James Spencer Russell at auction. Russell was a prolific artist who worked with both paint and repurposed materials. In New York City he developed a modest reputation — his work can be seen in the motion picture Midnight Cowboy — but he returned to Indiana in 1976. By the time he died in 2000, his work had fallen into obscurity.
The Kerns did much to rescue Russell's work from oblivion. They also helped organize an exhibition of his art at the Indiana State Museum in 2014.
Getting an intimate knowledge of Russell's work is something that, according to Kern, profoundly affected her artistic development. A similar process of absorbing and learning took place when she went to the IMA more than a dozen times to see the artwork of Thornton Dial.
"And that's primarily how I've learned about art. I didn't go to school," she says. "When I left North Central I went straight into banking," she continued. "So I feel that I'm constantly learning through my eyes, reading."
Kern's studio is in her home, densely packed with not only her own artwork but that of locally known artists such as Jerome Neal.
And it was that studio into which she brought in a vintage mannequin – one which she had found in an antique store in 2012 and bartered for with her own work — and decided to turn into the artwork that will be the centerpiece of Body Parts.
"The thing that struck me the most was, she just wasn't whole," says Kern. "I know that's obvious when you look at her, but she couldn't walk, she has no arms or hands; and I guess the big thing too was no head. She's just stuck there. Can't move, can't think, can't talk, can't see. And I kept coming back to the blind part.
"So fast forward, I had the opportunity to get Braille books. I cut up the Braille books and started to apply the pieces to her body and covered her entirely in Braille. I describe the process as scaling a fish, and then picking up the scales and gluing them back onto the fish. I loved the way I could accentuate the curves of the female body because I could make the lines and the pattern of the Braille in the direction that I wanted to take it."
This made-over mannequin, called "Torso," is confined to a wooden cart studded with nails and can be pulled with the help of a long wooden stick. This work might just serve as a visual metaphor for her experiences in the world of retail banking.
Another sculpture, entitled "Vagina," addresses issues of gender: looking through the eyepiece of this repurposed plaster of Paris mold the viewer can only see two balls, representing male and female. But there are three balls in the sculpture. It may be something of a commentary on the bathroom laws recently passed in North Carolina or the RFRA controversy back home in Indiana.
In any case, there is a wellspring of materials close to home on which her art can feed.
Unlike the late James Spencer Russell, Kern needed not travel too far from Indianapolis, where she was born in 1961, to develop her art. She currently lives in Carmel with her husband Ron.
And her interest in art began early.
“I do remember doing a piece in junior high for a student show at Northview Junior High School in Nora,” she says. “I cut up denim jeans and I made a collage and I put it on a canvas board but when I turned it in they threw the piece out. They said that it wasn’t two dimensional and being three dimensional was a requirement for the show. So I think that started a little bit of the rebel in me.”