Today’s is a Julia sky
low and late light sears
into chimneys sweetly butters
the number five speed sign
on the side gates to the brewery
now ports in the chalky air
pinkened they still deliver
up from sharp edged shadows
through cream tinctured sorrows
to the cool curving rooves
a glisten where the wet slates
are about to blossom
in a generosity of blue
because today Julia’s sky
declares itself open
“Julia McNairn, the artist now known as Julia McNairn White, has been my friend since we were both babies in the 1960s. We were raised by parents who were artists and teachers, Julia the youngest of four children and I the eldest of three. Two years my junior, Julia has always seemed to me, even in nappies, several years my senior in life skills and wisdom. My earliest memories of her involve exhilarating pleasure in running wild in the garden, fields and woods around her family’s lovely house in the Borders, in occasional forays into the town to stock up at the sweetie shop, and in sharing illicitly concocted late night feasts of puddings made in imitation of her mother’s signature ‘pink death’ blancmange.
As infants we made up radio shows and books together, not always appreciated by our parents, and we were seasoned in the ways of the art exhibition private view at a very young age. We shared beautiful clothes made for us by our mothers, and sometimes worn first by her sister. Of these I prized most an embroidery anglaise dress embellished with yellow daisies and a pink sash made by her mother, and she a bright pink tweed trouser suit made by mine. We often partook in the autumnal ritual pleasures of guising, much to the envy of my brothers. Julia is the best dressed person I know and she generously continues to dress me too.
I have always admired Julia’s capacity for pleasure and her tremendous power of self-determination and incredible sheer competence at whatever she sets her mind on. As one of life’s idlers, I am in utter awe of just how well and how speedily Julia gets shit done. Girls of slender means, we shared a flat together in Edinburgh in our early twenties, and moved on from pink death to martini. It was on the High Street above the Wax Work museum and handily next door to a nightclub. These were heady days, and a very happy time in my life. While I had an easy passage from school to university life in Edinburgh, she left school for seriously hard work in various Edinburgh shops while she got herself through evening classes to qualify for art college. Once there, she utterly shone.
As many talented artists who are also women, Julia’s career was diverted into the demands of family life when she married and had children, and in those years she changed focus from painting to working on architectural and design projects with her husband. I wrote this poem about four years ago, in celebration of her stunning return to the studio and to the gallery after enduring a very hard run of bereavements. Julia has moved mountains to make it possible for this consummate return to the activity she is clearly present on this earth to do—painting.”
Jane Goldman is a poet living in Edinburgh, and Reader in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. She likes anything a word can do. Her poems have been published in the magazines Scree, Tender, Gutter, Blackbox Manifold and elsewhere. Her first slim volume is Border Thoughts (Sufficient Place: Leamington Books, 2014), “a little theatrical box of spectacle and light […] the living underworld of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera translated into raucous girlish post-war wayward ways” (Lisa Jeschke, Hix Eros 6).