“Solstice” is a blend of opposites and constants.
Each piece in Averyl Veliz’s 13-piece series of digital collage illustrations printed on aluminum examine downtown Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery during either the winter or summer solstice.
“I wanted to show that stark contrast,” Veliz said.
“Solstice” was the focus on a Wednesday night Juneau Arts & Humanities Council roundtable meeting. Veliz explained the themes and methods behind the work that was supported by the JAHC and City and Borough of Juneau through an Individual Artist Award of $750.
Behind the art
The work was inspired by several things, including a closeness to the historic cemetery — Evergreen Cemetery Association was established in 1891 according to the city— that spans generations.
“My family has lived alongside the cemetery since 1948, and it was already considered full,” Veliz said.
While the works do feature headstones, crosses, ravens and lamb memorials that signify the graves of children, “Solstice” is not a morbid collection. It also depicts radiant light, bald eagles and other signs of life, which matches the vibrant downtown cemetery Veliz knows.
“You see people there,” Veliz said. “Kids climb trees. Kids go sledding. There’s a lot of charm about it.”
“Solstice” was also envisioned as a way to tell Juneau’s colonial story in less-than-obvious ways.
“Evergreen Cemetery itself is an analogy of the history of Western Expansion across North America over Indigenous lands and broken treaties,” stated an explanation of the project shared by Veliz.
Veliz’s work was influenced by Eyvind Earle, who is best known for background painting for Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” but lurking in the details of the Disney-fied scenes are text from old newspapers and snippets of maps that address colonialism.
Anglicized names for places linger in the dark shadows of pale winter scenes, while Tlingit names for geographical places appear in the sunlight of summer scenes.
“I wanted a lot of maps in my images,” Veliz said. “I wanted it to be a digital collage.”
During the roundtable discussion, Veliz said the newspaper clippings included in the pieces all came from the state’s archives, but to get the Tlingit names of places, she had to create map using Sealaska Heritage Institute resources and by working with X’unei Lance Twitchell, Associate Professor of Alaska Native Languages for University of Alaska Southeast.
She then placed those names on an old map in place of English-language names.
“We’re not used to seeing the original names mapped out this way,” Veliz said. “There is no such map that has Tlingit names mapped out this way. I had to make that.”
How it got made
The entirety of “Solstice” was illustrated in Photoshop.
Reference photos of the cemetery were used for inspiration.
“A lot of these trees actually exist,” Veliz said.
Similar effects could have been achieved using Illustrator, but Veliz specifically liked the sharp lines created in Photoshop using a lasso tool.
“I created all of these pieces simultaneously,” Veliz said. “In my mind, they’re not in any particular order.”
Working digitally made the last few pieces in “Solstice” move along slightly more quickly because certain elements could be re-purposed.
“There’s a lot of recycled trees,” Veliz said. “I had a big tree library.”
In total, “Solstice” took about 18 months to complete. That meant it was finished in time to be displayed at The Canvas art gallery downtown last June.
“Over half of the show sold,” Veliz said. “Funnily, all of the summer pieces sold.”
The pieces that sold were aluminum prints of digital files.
The result are pieces that include the specific color pallet chosen by Veliz that also reflect the light and tones of a room.
“I’m really pleased with the aluminum,” Veliz said. “I had never tried illustration on it before.”