Swim With Me: Inside the creative world of artist and mother Julie Goldstein

Juggling art studio work, surfing play time and raising a toddler, Julie Goldstein is a brilliant multi-tasker. Read on to find out what drives Julie's artistic storytelling.

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Artist Julie Goldstein and her son Frankie. Photo by Mark Tesi. 
In 2008, artist Julie Goldstein lost everything in a fire. She and her husband Mark Tesi owned Pine Surf Shop and Gallery, a successful art gallery and shop in New Jersey with Andy Davis paintings on the walls and Cyrus Sutton movie screening nights. Life was good. And then all of it — the gallery, her art studio and work inside — burned to the ground. It's the kind of devastation that could have shattered any dreamer to give up. But Julie saw it as a new beginning.

"My clients from Cardiff heard about the fire and they said, 'We have a cottage here. It’s empty for a month. Why don’t you guys come out here and just vacation and get away?'" says Julie of how she and her husband Mark ended up in California. "We drove with our surfboards [cross country] and we never went back." 

Julie has been a Californian now for seven years and the endless sunshine and waves inspired her to further incorporate her love of swimming into her artwork, and most recently motherhood (she gave birth to her son Frankie just over year ago) has been her muse. Julie's son Frankie and Seea designer Amanda Chinchelli's daughter Annabel have spent many a play dates together at the beach while the moms surf! 

In addition to her arwork of hand-carved woodblock prints and hand sewn fabric patchwork, Julie’s new venture SWM (Swim With Me) is a collaborative brand of products. Thus far it’s taken the form of ultra soft natural dyed knit t-shirts with LA dying artisans, a custom women’s wetsuit range for Japan-based Axxe wetsuits, and a forthcoming special tote bag in collaboration with Seea. We caught up with Julie to talk more about motherhood, her artwork and why East coast surfing made her tough.
Artist Julie Goldstein carving wood in her studio. Photo by Sarah Lee. 
Julie Goldstein's art prints made from woodblock carvings.  "Miss Clara T.  Hurst AKA T-BONES with babies" and "Miss Florence B. West AKA FLO with babies." 
What is your work about? 

My work has always been about women: camaraderie with women, women in history, women that I know and stories that have been passed down to me. My work re-tells these stories and often plays on the alter-ego of women in contrast to the day to day reality of each personality. I often portray women surfing and swimming, the ocean has always been a strong element in my work. Each piece tells a story that I hope instills empowerment and meaning to the "true self."

What are some examples of your artwork series about women? 

The "Women and Children on Dirt bike" series [based on observation while traveling through Costa Rica) is about motherhood and how mothers are nurturing yet fearless. This experience made me reflect on our society and how different our culture is compared to others. After watching women in Central America cruising on their dirt bikes sans helmets and shoes, I felt a desire to create a body of work that expresses the strength of these women and how they empowered me. I look at these women as role models and created each woodcut 4 feet x 8 feet to exhibit them life size.
A woodcut print from the "Mother and Children on Dirbikes" series by artist Julie Goldstein. Photo courtesy of Julie Goldstein. 

Your women’s lifesaving league series has women surfing on longboards and holding babies. Was that after you gave birth to your son, Frankie? 

The "Women's Lifesaving League" series is a body of work that tells the story of women swimmers from 1901-1911 in New York City. They challenged the rules of swimming and proved their athleticism as they raced the men in the Hudson River to gain equal opportunity as athletes. Some of the races were 23-25 miles long. These women were pioneers, badass and believed in their goals to change history forever. They started their own league and trained women to swim and save lives in the water. The stories are compelling and empowering.

I really connected to these stories and to these women. This body of work is one of my favorites thus far. The images of the women surfing were inspired by holding Frankie and how much my life changed after having a baby. The surfing pieces are metaphors for balance and how powerful surfing is to me — especially as a mother. 

While I was pregnant, I also created a few pieces of women pregnant and surfing. The water was the only place where I felt light, comfortable and my true self, especially toward the end of my pregnancy, when I could feel Frankie moving in my belly when I would go in the water. I reflected a lot about my love for the water and Frankie in my womb and how life is cyclical. I feel fortunate to be a surfer and to feel so connected to the sea.

Inside Julie Goldstein's art studio. Photo by Takashi Tomito. 

What’s the story behind Swim With Me, your collaboration project?

My art series, "Swim With Me" was the first body of work that I created after we moved to California from New Jersey, after Pine burned down in 2008. I lost most of my woodcuts and art in that fire and starting over was challenging. This body of work was about starting over, being fearless with my concepts, images and message. I decided I was going to make it about swimming because being in the water is my happy place and it is the place where I reflect and find inspiration. In the swirl pieces, I used a lot of negative space. This was something new for me. I decided to recycle wood remains from the fire and to use them in a new way, a positive way. In front of the swirls, I drew girls swimming, surfing and riding dirt bikes. Are they carrying the swirls with them or leaving them behind? Is it water or is it fire?

I created my brand SWM (Swim with me) this past year. It was inspired by the stories that I tell in my work.  SWM is a collaboration brand and allows me the opportunity to work with other designers, artists and brands to make beautiful product and accessories.  I chose the name SWM because it represents commraderie, working together and creating together. My first collaboration was with artists at Cal State Long Beach.  I worked with natural dyers to create a line of tees, tanks and bags created with organic materials and natural dyes.

SWM backpack and t-shirt by Julie Goldstein. Photo by Dane Peterson. 
Julie Goldstein trying on a sample of the Axxe wetsuit collaboration. Photo by Sarah Lee. 
One of Julie Goldstein's artworks that employs a woodcut print and fabric. Photo courtesy of Julie Goldstein. 

Your first SWM project is clothing and natural dying, how did you come upon natural dying?

I was pregnant when I started this line. I felt that I needed to modify everything I did in my studio. Maybe I shouldn’t be around paint and inks with a baby growing inside of me. My assistant said, “Why don’t we dabble in vegetable dyes?” We did a couple runs and samples. I love the way it feels, it encompasses how I am as a person. Even though it's a lot harder to produce, I also love that everything is not perfect. Each is dyed individually, each piece looks unique I love the process and colors too.

Has being a mother of a toddler changed your creative process?

Being a mother of a toddler has changed mostly my schedule rather than my process. I still produce and create in the same manner, its just that my blocks of time to work in my studio are limited. I have to give my self more time to complete work and reach deadlines. Some days I research, others I draw, carve or sew, it just depends on the project. Basically, I work when Frankie sleeps, so that can be 1 hour a day or 3 hours a day, it just depends. Finding that sweet balance has been challenging, but we are making it work. Frankie loves to be in the studio with me and soon enough will be making art with me!!

Julie Goldstein and her son Frankie. Photo by Mark Tesi.

In what ways has having a child inspired your work?

Having a child has inspired me in many ways. Frankie reminds me of my inner-child and gives me permission to explore, express and PLAY! Watching Frankie and being around children has motivated me in a new way. I also want to be a role-model for Frankie and teach him to be comfortable around materials and the creative process. We are constantly doing and creating in our home.

You say that you’re “an East coaster that lives on the west coast” even though you’ve been here for seven years. What’s the East Coast mentality?

I love the East coast and am proud to say that I am from New Jersey. The East has a different energy; Its fast, its opinionated, its loud and it knows what it wants! The East coast has seasons, which always affected my creativity, color palette and subject matter. We lived on Long Beach Island; it hustled in the summer and was desolate in the winter. The winter months were quiet, cold and helped me to focus on my studio work. I was and still am very inspired by the East coast. My friends and family are all apart of my work, storytelling and memories. As much as I love living on the West coast, I do miss the East.

How do you balance your East coast roots with west coast life now?

Mark and I are both inspired by the East coast mentality, yet love the West coast way of living. I think there has to be a balance and have finally learned where the sweet spot is between work and relaxing. We travel back home (East) quite a bit. My goal is to travel back for the summer months. My very good friend Ann Coen opened up a gallery on Long Beach Island, were I exhibit my work and sell SWM product. I would like to be back East more often to work with my clients and collaborate with artists and designers as well as find inspiration from my roots.

Julie Goldstein in her art studio. Photo by Takashi Tomito. 
"Under the Full Moon Winter" artwork by Julie Goldstein. 

What’s the surf culture like in East coast?

Surfing on the East coast is about friendship. We all knew each other and encouraged each other to surf, even on cold, snowy days. Its more intimate and everyone is stoked to be surfing. I remember even on big days, the guys were always rooting for the girls, forcing us to take off on big sets. Back when I was growing up, it was a small group of people that surfed, now it seems like everyone is surfing, including the girls!

Did you surf with any women growing up?

I had three girl friends that surfed with me as a teenager. We all got our first surfboards and wetsuits when we were 11. I will never forget those days. We would get so excited to paddle out, even on rainy, stormy days. When I was in my mid 20's, there was a group of us. These ladies inspired my first body of work titled "Team Riders."

Do you consider yourself a surf artist?

My art has a lot to do with my experiences as a surfer, however I do not pigeonhole myself as a "surf artist." There are many components to my work that tell my story and surfing is a big part of who I am and where I feel my "true self." It is my soul and I am very inspired by my relationship with the sea. The fact that I am a surfer is great because I am naturally nestled into the culture, however my work tells stories, it is semi-autobiographical and portrays many aspects of my life, people and experiences.
A woodcut print by Julie Goldstein. Photo courtesy of Julie Goldstein. 

How did you feel when you first surfed in Seea?

Wearing my Seea suit is empowering. It's a fashion statement. They are sexy without being revealing. I get so many complements on my Seea suits, I have several and want more!!

What’s next for you Julie?

I have a few collaboration projects happening right now. I just launched a wet suit line with Axxe. I am also working as an artist in resident at Carmel Mountain Preschool. I am creating an art program and studio for 250 children under the age of five. Working with children has been rewarding and inspiring!! This summer I launch a collaboration with the author Corinne Ruff, I am illustrating her book titled "The Sea" and will exhibit the show at The Ann Coen Gallery, as well as exhibiting at Bing and creating a one of kind surfboard that will be up for auction. Lastly, SEEA and I have something up our sleeves!! That collaboration will launch soon, I am very excited to work with the genius Amanda Chinchelli!!

Happy Mother's Day, Julie! Thanks so much for speaking with us and we can't wait to show everyone the new bag collaboration we've been working on together. 

Follow along with Julie's SWM project on Instagram at @swmwithme and visit her websites: swm.la and juliegoldstein1.com


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