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Julia Randall Interview

Posted on Sep 24 2012

As a child, did you have contact with works of art?
I was an extremely lucky kid to have family, teachers, and mentors who all encouraged my early interest in art. I was born and raised in NYC, in close proximity to fantastic art; my aunt frequented museums and took me along. She was a wonderful, oddball character who exposed me to a lot of work from various traditions. I started my collection of art books back then—gifts from her.
Can you recall the first piece of art that caught your attention?
I was endlessly fascinated with the Egyptian wing at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. I loved the hieroglyphs, both carved in stone, and the painted versions. As a young teenager, I was already interested in making art, and I went to the Museum of Modern Art often; Max Beckmann was my favorite—I was attracted early on to the dark mood and foreboding in his paintings, and how active his marks are.

Can you define what it is that triggers each new artwork you work on? Is it a thought, a picture, a dream maybe, or none of that?
It has varied a lot over time, and is not so easy to pinpoint. There are overarching themes that have sustained my work, since I was in art school. The pleasure and discomfort of female desire continues to find its’ way into much of my imagery, although my approach has varied radically along the way.
I am very attracted to verbal or visual puns, and I adore double-entendres! Often an image or idea starts from deliberately pitching the visual against the verbal, so that the “meaning” of the imagery is changed or layered. I want my audience to have a sense of surprise, and this is not always easy--I come up with many ideas that are flat, too one-dimensional, and that I never end up fully drawing.
I also take a lot of inspiration from sources outside of my own head. Looking at things I love often sparks my imagination: botanical drawings, natural history museums, decorative arts, and other artists’ work.

According to your biographical information, your images are simultaneously erotic and humorous - would you elaborate for us in what ways eroticism is related to humor?
It is a challenge to make an image sexually charged and compelling. It is so easy to lapse into cliché or use overly familiar tropes to express eroticism. The same is true for humorous images, and there is a big difference between “ha-ha” and “ha-ha…huh?” (the latter being more complicated and interesting).
When I come up with my images, I employ the tension created by combining supposedly opposing sensibilities, erotic and humorous. For me, genuine humor and eroticism both have something mysterious and unquantifiable. There is often discomfort in both humor and eroticism; both have the potential to be raw, abject, and can make you feel vulnerable. What is funny/sexy is also very private. What I find funny/sexy isn’t necessarily the same for you--both impulses are exactly that—impulse, which lies beneath the surface of our endless ability to rationalize. I am happy when people see my imagery and want to giggle with discomfort, look away, and look back again.
 If I asked you to describe your artistic sensibilities with three words, which would they be?
Precise, surreal, beautifully disturbing

During the time you have been working as an artist, do you find that your ideas about art and the way you look at art have evolved in time?
If so, in what ways?

Obviously seeing more art, befriending more artists over time, learning about work in art history courses, traveling, and sustained studio practice have altered my perceptions about art in general and in specific. In many ways, my tastes have become more varied, and I appreciate a lot more about work that is clearly situated outside of the tradition I work in.  At the same time, I can be boorish in my opinions, and sometimes dismissive about art that I find pretentious or thin or dishonest. Also I have less time now than I did when I was younger, and I only want to use this time to see work that I am really interested in.  I think teaching, in particular, demands that I keep fresh eyes.
If you could change one thing about the art world, what would that be?
I would eliminate pretense; there is often an institutionalized posturing or self-importance in the art world. I believe that this stems from competition, for who gets to act as a cultural bellwether and decide which art is “Important.” Myself, I prefer the “buffet model” for the art world—that there be a wide variety of art from many different traditions to sample from. I prefer the inclusivity of this approach.
If you could save only one work from a major catastrophe, which would it be?
Maybe I would rescue one of Jan Van Eyck or Hans Memling’s stunning masterpieces?

For my own work—I find it very hard to answer this question. I tend to divorce myself from my work once it is finished—I look at the drawings almost as if someone else made them—it is often hard form me to remember the experience of having drawn them. Maybe I would save what I am currently working on, because it still compels me. From my past work, I might save the drawing, “Compact.”

Which is most important for an artist: To gain recognition, or to become more creative through time?
This obviously varies depending on which artist you ask. For me, the evolution of my work, making my drawings strong, original, beautiful, and strange is the most important. I need to feel proud of my work, divorced from anyone’s reaction to it (possible exception is my husband’s reaction). Having said this, I care deeply that others are moved by my work—I am not making these drawings for my own eyes. And of course I want to be recognized, to have an audience, etc.
Are you ever troubled by insecurities? If so, how do you deal with these feelings?
In my work or life in general? Answer for both: yes, of course!
Although I would love to portray myself as very even-keeled in my relationship with my work, I would be lying. I go up and down all the time in the studio, and have been like this as long as I have been making art. I get very “into” what I am working on in the moment, and I tend to fret a lot. My husband tells me that I am hyper-critical of whatever I am drawing at the moment: that I always bemoan how my “now” work is never as good as what I may have recently finished. 
He may be right about that.
How I deal with this—I have a couple of “go-to” people, all artists; they are very tolerant of me voicing my insecurities, and will humor me for a while, then just tell me to be quiet and get back to work. Also, although I am 44 years old, I still talk to my mom about my doubts—she is a great, tolerant listener.


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