As a parting gift to TBS, Juliette Furio’s final artist interview will be frankly charting her own process, and the doubts within.
I have a confession to make. I am terrible at writing about myself.
I mean, give me any artist, living or dead, and time to do a little research, and I’ll pump out an article or essay of whatever length desired (just tell me which). But when it comes to the “me me me” that is so unfortunately important in art, I just bomb straight out.
Honestly, my worst piece of writing to date was probably my honours thesis. I apologise to the tree whose sacrifice I sullied with those 30 pages of total confusion. But then, perhaps I should give myself a break. If you have ever gone to an art opening and picked up the artist statement, you will find that nine times out of 10, it is unintelligible. My hypothesis is that sometime around the enlightenment era, when the cult of the individual began, the art world began a slow implosion that ultimately resulted in artists requiring a worded out reason behind their art making. A purpose. A mission statement.
Now, sitting on the art-writing fence, I can’t help but scratch my head in puzzlement and ask something that has been niggling at me since second year of art school. Is art not a perfectly legitimate mode of self-expression, in its own right? In fact, is the purpose behind painting, sculpture, photography or a body-painting-performance piece not because that is the artist’s preferred way of saying what they feel, think or believe in? If each and every artist could clearly articulate what they want to say through a well-worded document, would that not simply make them all writers?
Coming back to me (me me), the reason behind my choice – or need – to make art as well as write comes down to a matter of thought. I chose the medium through which I can articulate my state of mind best. If I have a series of half-finished sentences circling around and around my head, chances are I will pick up a pen to finish them off. If I feel something…indescribable. If the need comes down to express a feeling or urge, or to explore an impulse, then I turn to painting. The relationship I have to my paintings is of seeing them as a physical manifestation of my mind. I feel the pathological need to question everything. I mean everything. And that tends to mean that my paintings become quite layered.
I may start by picking up a marker or pastel and scribbling out some nonsensical words. I will then cover that in a series of squares of house paint. Nice thick stuff that leaves some texture behind, so that four or five hours later when I am scrubbing furiously away at a bad colour choice, the texture of the house paint gracefully emerges from the swamp of collage, line and colour that has been created. A couple of hours after that, you might find me lost in my own world, jotting out the outline of a cow-skeleton or whatever has entered my mind at that time.
Are you getting the picture I’m trying to paint here? I paint (and collage and draw) not because I have something to say which could just as easily go into an essay. I paint because the very act of it is something of a lifeline to my subconscious. The surrealists have some great things to say about that, by the way. That art is in fact the expression of desires that conflict with your conscious state. I don’t quite see how it applies to a landscape or flowers-in-a-vase piece, but ultimately I think they’re onto something. By turning to art, I release myself of all preconceptions and expectations. I take risks. I play. I explore. I spend hours achieving a balance of composition, colour and form, because that is the language I have turned to.
The act of painting can be very similar to writing your thoughts down; only you are using visual elements rather than words. As I paint and think about what I am painting, things fall into place visually as well as mentally. And ultimately, if there is an effect I want to impress on my audience, it’s not of a particular socio-political agenda or even of wanting them to know exactly what I’m attempting to express. No, it is of enabling the viewer to lose themselves in the layers of visual elements, of allowing their mind to wander. In short I want to facilitate the act of thinking, and whatever you think about is up to you.
That said, with the (ever so slightly unhealthy) habit I have of relentlessly questioning my every aspect of existence, I have finally been able to put down in words what it is I am attempting to do through my painting. For the moment anyway, as it seems to be continually morphing; which keeps my mind busy enough not to explode (thankfully). In my painting, I question the human psyche and its relationship to reality. I am also questioning the act of painting and its relevance today. With all of art history continually swirling around my mind, I take from each period – as far as my skill set allows – in an attempt to simultaneously juxtapose and harmonise the elements of art that are sadly adrift and seemingly purposeless in our post-post-modern day and age. In short, I am attempting the paradox of displacing and reconciling, achieving balance; and of reflection, questioning and stating. A task that is sure to keep me busy for a while. And that is just when it comes to painting.
Did I mention I sculpt too? Seriously. If I had unlimited riches I would be carving my way through blocks of limestone in a big open paddock. Or a garage with enough ventilation. Bronze is pretty kick-ass too; I have half a dozen three-inch bronze sculptures hanging around my home, left over from various shows. As time passes and I slowly morph into the archetype of the starving artist, stone and bronze have been replaced with plaster and cement stand. I make the best of it. I appreciate the textures, durability and the factor of chance, which unfailingly brings with it the thrill of the unexpected. I won’t go into why I sculpt, what ultimate mode of self-expression that represents for me etc. Enough about me for now. Though I will say that this is probably the most succinct piece of writing I have done on my own art practice to date. Sigh. It never comes when you expect it to. Before I leave you, I’d like to share a few points that make up my day-to-day mantra, a list that keeps me grounded in the face of never being quite sure that you know what you’re doing.
Don’t compare yourself
Especially to your own peers! Seeing someone’s success might strike you with self-doubt, so it is invaluable to remember that you have an entirely different set of experiences and personality, which in turn directs the evolution of your work and goals. That said, if seeing someone work their butt off makes you feel lazy, then perhaps you should be working a little harder.
Be honest with yourself
And by that I mean know why you are in the game. I couldn’t give a toss if you just want to be the next Andy Warhol art superstar. Good for you! If that is the case, then think about the steps that will get you there. Dedicated to the path of being a loner art god like Cezanne? I may respect you more, but same deal applies. It is the only way to properly measure your achievements and keep on track.
Though vastly explored, a career in the arts remains largely uncharted territory. You will make mistakes and it is important you do so. I am talking about both the art as well as the business side of things. Obviously, we would all like a smooth sailing journey, but shit happens and you may very well fuck things up every now and again. How else does one learn?
Try not to freak out
Art may be your passion, your true love or your only friend. This does not mean it will always flow. For some strange reason, every time I finish a work I’m particularly happy with, I have an existential moment that feels like the end. I have spoken to friends after they have had a show and instead of finding them proud and satisfied, they seem to be experiencing the artist equivalent of baby blues. So I reiterate; if you draw a blank now and then, chances are you are simply burned out.
Oh the importance of continuity! Be proficient and above all, persist. You will suffer, no doubt, but no matter the outcome, you can at least be sure there will be no regrets. Part of this is being flexible. I don’t have a studio at the moment so my home and workspace are one and the same. There are paint splatters all over the kitchen bench, of which I have grown quite fond. I paint on found boards – it is incredible what comes your way when on the lookout! As for sculpture, I’ve already told you all about my forays into plaster and cement. I do intend on having a studio at some point – whether through a temporary residency or renting after some commercial success – but even then, I think my home will probably remain a hub of creation.
In a last burst of self-promotion, I want to share something with you of which I am quite proud; my new artist website! But wait! There’s more! (Direct reference to Scream for any cheesy horror fans out there like myself.) This is not just an artist website, no no. It is the home of Wolf&Kitten (W&K for short), a collaborative artistic identity developed between my partner and I. I won’t spoil any surprises, go check it out – www.wolfnkitten.com – it’s worth the click.