AM: The obvious question is: why are you drawn to backyards at the moment? There’s an element of voyeurism in the process of photographing these spaces. They’re literally an intersection of private and public spaces…what do you find most interesting as you walk around collecting these images? (And have you had any odd experiences?)
JA: I am drawn to backyards because they are the part of people’s homes that are usually unseen, save for close friends and relatives. The front facade of a home is the part that is made presentable to the general public, or at least the part that is more visible to strangers. The way in which it is presented - groomed or ungroomed, landscaped or not, painted or chipping - is generally a representation of the people who live inside. At least that’s my fantasy! I’ve walked down many alleys and in some cases the backyard is just as tidy as the front, though usually it is a place to stack, pile, store, and discard everything from broken down cars to plastic shopping bags full of debris. I am more attracted to the backyards that contain strange and unusual piles of detritis than to the tidy yards, yet I’m just as fascinated with the contrast of the two types. I wonder if the neighbors are friendly with one another or if they harbor disdain and disapproval about how each other choses to live. The only odd experience I’ve had was trying to snap a photo of someone’s yard while they were looking out the window at me. I didn’t take the photo. It felt too invasive.
AM: Returning to the idea of motivation: after having completed the assignment you set for yourself, what do you feel it revealed most about your studio practice, the intersection of making art, working, and daily routines?
JA: It brought up a lot of questions about quality vs quantity and about vanity. There are a few paintings I selected not to include in the exhibit because I didn’t feel proud of them. The color was bad, the composition was sloppy and uninteresting. My decision not to include them makes me question my overall intent for the project. A friend was talking about a challenge where he was going to make 14 songs in 28 days. His goal was not to make a song every two days, but to develop all the different parts to the arrangements in the first couple weeks and then put them together in the end to form 14 distinct songs. This differs from my intent which was to see if I could complete 1 painting every day. I figured if they were small enough and I limited my subject matter and palette I could easily do it. Not so. As I suspected, I am much better at making fully realized and developed paintings on Saturday or Sunday mornings; I am rested and haven’t come from sitting at a desk for 9 hours. With this project I found that making a painting a day from the same subject matter can be pretty monotonous for me. When I reserve weekends for working I leave 5 days to reflect on and distance myself from the previous weekend’s work. Also, weekend studio time feels like a gift as opposed to a burden as it sometimes did during this project.
AM: I know your field in grad school was (technically) painting, but you’ve been making installations for a long time and most people would recognize your installation work immediately. Lately you’ve been turning to painting more often. What motivated this shift and do you have further plans for developing this kind of work?
JA: While I was in grad school intellectually I wanted very badly to make paintings, but my body didn’t want to do that. I made some attempts at oil paintings, but I didn’t really have a subject that I cared about and my color palette wasn’t refined. I was always more interested in collage and mixed media and making physical changes to the spaces I worked within. The big installations I made in school were very important for developing my subject matter, materials, and palette. It became evident that I liked found objects and industrial building materials. I would photograph my installations and make small sketches and paintings and collages from them. I was painting imaginary worlds I’d created. Now instead of creating the worlds, I am going out into my environment and painting from that. The current paintings focus on building materials as flat geometric planes, so there is a direct link between the installations and the current body of work. I am also being inventive with color and scale in these paintings in much the same way I was with the installations. I do plan to continue making installations. Making the small paintings has taught me a lot about color and shape and given me some perspective on my larger work. It’s helped me whittle down my ideas so I’m excited to see what kind of installation I will make next. (About 50% of my installations are improvised on site.)
AM: (As touched on before) one of your recurring trademarks over the years has been a vibrant but restrained and consistent color palette and the transformation of space into texturally complex, flattened forms - these trademarks do clearly tie your paintings to your installations. Do you feel you relate to space in a particular way that informs your compositions, the layering and collapsing of images, the condensing of color and form?
JA: I do feel that I relate to space in a particular way that informs my compositions, color and form. I can’t look at any space or structure without breaking it down into geometric forms. I am constantly analyzing how a door meets a doorframe, where it sits in the middle of the wall, how the handle relates to the door, how the shadows are cast. I never take my surroundings for granted. When it comes to responding to spaces and structures with paint or installation materials I always aim to exaggerate a space’s most and least prominent features. I want to draw attention to very small things like electrical outlets and to very large things like extremely long walls, large windows, tall ceilings, or other quirks unique to the space. The work is never about just the space or just the materials I use. It is always about the intersection of the two. It is self-conscious but also confident. In terms of color I isolate very vibrant unnatural colors from more neutral ones in an effort to create visual balance and as a way of replicating the daily sensation we experience when we focus in on one object or person and everything around it falls away. The focal point is louder than the environment in which it sits, yet the environment is necessary for the focal point to exist within. The fact that I play with illusion and altered reality comes from watching hours and hours of films and acting in high school musicals.
(A peek into Julie’s studio; photos by Damon Mori)