Layers of material, layers of meaning

Tom Judd's 'Garden of the Mind' exhibit isn't easy to categorize


A new exhibit by Germantown-based artist Tom Judd is designed to create a contemplative setting for “growing ideas.”

“Garden of the Mind,” at Cope House Galleries in Germantown, features large dreamlike works on tarps and smaller panels. The metaphor of the garden serves as a place to discover - and reconsider - the stories we tell about our relationships with ourselves, and with nature. The art is an intuitive exploration of the human condition and the surrounding world.

The exhibition will be on view through July 5, 2023. 

Judd, who grew up in Salt Lake City, came to Philadelphia in 1973 to attend the Philadelphia College of Art, now known as the University of the Arts. While there, he studied with artists including Rafael Ferrer, Bob Kulicke, and Larry Day. 

From the outset, Judd’s work defied simple categorization. Mixing elements of realism and abstraction, his paintings and collages are simple yet complex, and evoke an odd mix of old assumptions and raw emotion. 

By the age of 25, Judd made his mark on the Philadelphia art world in the survey show “Contemporary Drawing: Philadelphia,” curated by Ann Percy and Frank Goodyear, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He was among the featured artists, and his work was acquired by the museum for its permanent collection.

Judd went on to exhibit his work in galleries and museums throughout the country. His work is now included in the collections of major institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Judd's work often incorporates pieces of old maps, architectural drawings, and vintage photographs, cleverly interwoven within a surreal tableau. This allows Judd to delve into themes of history, memory, and human experience, and bring the past into the present.

The pieces in the show illustrate Judd’s distinct use of found objects. "Nature's Path," is a blend of collage and oil painting on a small panel that incorporates fragments of vintage maps and images interwoven within a lush, dreamlike landscape. "Seed of Thought,"a strikingly large piece that centers around a vivid, abstract seed form, its riotous colors extending in all directions, symbolizes the infinite potential of a single idea. "Reflections," a work painted on a tarp, presents a surreal, mirrored pool in a serene garden – a reflective surface that seems to ask us to contemplate our reflection in the world around us. The painting suggests that we are as much a part of nature as it is of us.

Arboretum or gallery?

Awbury Arboretum has long held art openings at Cope House, but it wasn’t until 2021 that the institution got serious about running a continuous program for exhibitions. 

“That’s when we formed an art committee, comprised of local artists, and began reaching out to other local artists, said Sara Robbins, a vice president of the board at Awbury Arboretum and chair of the art committee. 

The selected artists are chosen by jury, and the art hangs for two months. There are five shows each year, with no art shown in January or February. 

“We are particularly interested in artists who can provide work that has to do with nature,” Robbins said. “And we accept all mediums except sculpture, as there is no place to put it, first, and also because Cope House is also used as a wedding venue, so it really wouldn’t be practical.”

The art program is also starting to generate income with 15 percent of all sales benefitting the arboretum. 

“It’s new for us, but so far I would say it’s been successful,” Robbins said. “Any amount of revenue we can raise is always of great value, no matter how large or how small. We appreciate and can use every bit of it.”

Cope House Galleries are at 1 Awbury Road in Germantown.