“My biggest success has been surrounding myself with great peers and an awesome supportive community.”
Julia Dickens does it all: illustration, text, animation, curation, poster art, and installation (for starters). Image and text are often at play as she oscillates freely between bold, bright shapes and light, shaded, delicately fading watercolours.
We couldn’t sum her up if we tried, so we let her speak for herself in this exclusive interview. Two works of art by Julia are paired with a poem by Dyan Marie in Issue 53 of Papirmass. Purchase it here.
Hi Julia! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your art practice?
Hi Papirmass! Well, I am a 29-year-old Toronto-based artist and illustrator, originally from Ottawa. I studied animation for 3 years at Algonquin College before moving to Toronto, where I am finishing my BA in Illustration, with minors in Printmaking and Painting & Drawing.
I am a former board member of The White House Studio Project in Kensington Market (formerly at College and Landsdowne) and share a live-work studio with artists Vanessa Rieger, Andi Clifford and musician Caylie Staples. I am also a member of Punchclock screen printing studio in Parkdale. Although I hail from Ottawa and have (and continue to) exhibit work there from time to time, I identify as a Toronto artist mainly because I feel as though my practice really began here.
Joining the White House was the key decision in not only taking my practice seriously, but also involving myself in Toronto’s artistic community. High points or acheivements include the two-person show ‘Cataract’ with photographer Greg Zenha in 2011, curating a group exhibition at the OCADu Student Gallery ‘Another Dark Day Passes’ with Diana Lynn VanderMeulen, exhibiting at Xpace, Ghost Hole V and being a feature artist in Go Home Magazine issue 2.
How has your work evolved over the last few years? Can you pinpoint when you started to feel confident that you had found your stylistic voice?
That’s a hard question!I guess my work has become more cross-disciplinary, although I would first and foremost identify as a drawer, always. But deciding to take on installlation-style projects, like the Slime Library I made for Ghost Hole V, Don’t Go at Xpace and the bunting I made for the Long Winter (a concert series that happens in Toronto), has been a really fun challenge. I’ve moved away from the drawing style I developed when I went to school for animation, become a bit more experimental, doing a lot of text art now which I was surprised to discover that I loved. I think making work that distanced myself from figurative drawing was an important decision. I felt like I was relying too strongly on that skill because it’s something I felt I was good at. Is it ok to admit that you are good at something? I’m good at it because, when I was in school for animation, I was at school drawing from 9 am to midnight every single day. If you ever want to learn how to draw well, go to school for animation. It’s like boot camp. That being said, I don’t ever want to abandon it, drawings are one of my favourite types of expression, human hands can make really beautiful lines on paper. I think I just had to learn (and am still learning) to think about it differently.
“It’s sort of embarrassing to admit that sometimes I don’t know how to talk about my own work, but it’s so intuitive, and frankly emotional, that I often find it difficult to articulate myself.”
I think the split show I did with Greg at the White House was a bit of a milestone. It was the first time I felt as though I could talk about each piece in the show confidently. It’s sort of embarrassing to admit that sometimes I don’t know how to talk about my own work, but it’s so intuitive, and frankly emotional, that I often find it difficult to articulate myself. Feelings are abstract and confusing! There’s been other moments: submitting to galleries and having your submission approved is definitely a confidence booster… overall however I’d have to say that while I feel as though there are stylistic choices and themes in my work that I’m committed to, it’s still evolving. I think it’s going to change quite a lot, even within the next year. It’s exciting!
Do you see yourself situated within any particular artistic movements or styles? If I had to choose I would say that some of your art is “punk”, but punk art isn’t really a thing. Sometimes I wish it was as easy to categorize contemporary art as it is music!
I know! Music is difficult to categorize too sometimes… I don’t know if I would categorize myself as a ‘punk’ artist but that’s because I associate punk with collage and I don’t do collage art (although I’ve recently become interested in incorporating it). I grew up with punk culture and it still informs my day to day life so I think it’s inevitable that that’s part of it.
“I don’t know if I have the looseness of punk art, the ‘I don’t fucking care’ attitude in my approach, but I really would like to cultivate that more. It seems pretty liberating.”
I definitely take a lot of influence from music culture and a lot of my favourite contemporary artists have some sort of relationship to music, Raymond Pettibon being a great example (for those who don’t know, Pettibon designed the Black Flag logo and illustrated album covers and posters for them, in addition to the cover of Sonic Youth’s ‘Goo,’ and is generally just amazing). He’s probably the reason why I like to draw with brush pens, I’m still trying to emulate the looseness and confidence in his linework…
Seripop, when they were still illustrators, are another huge influence (and also now that they are doing huge crazy installations – like what the hell? So good). They intersect the psychedelic with harsh visual noise, this almost violent or aggressive mess of lines and colour piled on top of one another and executed with total precision and it fucking rules. I think that’s pretty punk. I would identify my art as being contemporary psychedelic, with influences from comic book and zine culture (which is obviously linked to punk culture). I don’t know if I have the looseness of punk art, the ‘I don’t fucking care’ attitude in my approach, but I really would like to cultivate that more. It seems pretty liberating.
I think I mostly run The Loving Echo because I secretly want to be in a band and I’m not. I am pretty influenced by music, so it’s been a bit exciting that I’ve been asked lately to make show posters and do installations for musicians (The Long Winter, Feast in the East, and an hopefully an upcoming collaboration with Lido Pimienta). I think the real relationship there is that I am influenced by the emotional landscapes created in music, in a way that is very very different from visual art. Sometimes I feel as though I spend more time learning about music than art to be honest. I also use my art practice as a mechanism to get into new music: I’ll put on an album that I’ve never listened to when I have a big project to work on and just try to zone out. Just groove out you know? Especially when I’m screenprinting, the space-y-er the better. Most of the contributors to the blog are artists, musicians and DJs (all women, btw) so it’s also just an exercise in appreciating them, I’ll often write a story about how I know the contributor or what kind of cool creative projects she’s involved in.
It’s hard to pick a favourite because they have all been so good, but I always especially enjoy Alicia Nauta’s mixes. She made this one for me called ‘Al’s Choiciest Choices‘ and man is it ever choice. My favourite mix I made is this sweet psyched out one called ‘Making Out On Acid.’ I also made this other one for my sister that I love called ‘Merry Krautmas Laura’ (other working title was Kosmiche Kirstmas) but I haven’t posted that one yet. Maybe I should? It’s really good.
What is your biggest challenge? What has been your biggest success?
My biggest challenge is motivation and having a consistent practice, honestly, and part of that is just wrangling with depression. Maybe that’s a bit TMI but it’s the truth. It affects most areas of my life, and it’s a sneaky thing because when I’m really motivated and have a big deadline it’s easy to forget about it. We all suffer from self doubt and feeling as though we aren’t doing enough, so overcoming that is a day to day challenge. While strife or emotional pain can be an inspiration for some, I find it stops me from being able to achieve my goals. Having a healthy day to day life where I work hard and accomplish goals, and maintaining that life, is my biggest challenge. I’m working on it!
My biggest success has been surrounding myself with great peers and an awesome supportive community. It can be daunting to be an artist and to show your work, you open yourself up to criticism and the chance of failure.
“I am influenced by the emotional landscapes created in music.”
It’s hard to measure success because it’s so relative. But when you can look around and realize that you are doing exactly what you want to be doing with your life, are surrounded by intelligent, interesting and inspiring friends, when you’ve cultivated a life where you can show your work consistently, when you are continuing to explore and grow, I would say you are already successful. Does that answer that question? Hopefully my biggest professional success is yet to come. I did a project for First Thursday at the AGO in January, definitely told my mom about that one. Oh also, my high school best friend bought a drawing from me in December, a friend who previously showed no real interest in art or things that I made. She bought it because she really liked it. I considered that a success.
What do you have planned for the coming year?
Well… hopefully graduating from University finally! I wanted to get it done before I turned 30 but it looks as though that’s not going to happen. I would like to get more freelance work, doing posters and maybe some art for bands (hint hint BANDS). Myself and artist Sarah D’Angelo have been working on and off on a short clay animation film so I’m excited to get that project up and running again (hint hint SARAH). I’m working on a two person show with painter and filmmaker Laura Dawe, so that will be really fun! I kind of just want to paint this year! Laura is a fantastic artist, I am super duper excited to work with her. Diana and I are also planning on continuing the work we did with ‘Another Dark Day Passes,’ and we are looking at artist run centres we want to submit proposals to.
Julia Dickens is our May 2014 artist. See more of Issue 53 here.
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