Julie Curtiss: Altered States

by Jonathan Velardi

When she’s not sharing her favorite painting shows in New York on Instagram @julietuyetcurtiss or being lauded herself by Jerry Saltz — cue fist-bump emojis — Julie Curtiss is in her Brooklyn studio, surrounded by sketches that piece together her surreal fantasies.

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‘Mourners’, 2018 — Acrylic and oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist

A French native and graduate from l’Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Julie Curtiss studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a semester in 2005 before moving to New York in 2010. Chicago was to return on the artist’s radar as her abstract paintings began to take a more graphic style, informed by the playful and radical figurations of Chicago Imagists, such as Roger Brown (1941–1997), Christina Ramberg (1946–1995) and Ray Yoshida (1930–2009).

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Julie Curtiss in her studio in Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Jonathan Velardi

Focusing on the female body as her subject and combining it with surreal scenes of everyday life has lead Curtiss to a fantastical investigation of feminism, sexuality, psychoanalytical symbology and the collective unconscious. Recurring motifs have become signature entries into this seductively dark and perverse dreamworld: gnarly hands with manicured talon-like nails grasp cigarettes that discharge cinematic plumes of smoke; faces are cropped or are coyly obscured under hats, veils and turned-up collars; suggestive bodily features dissolve into thick, tight curls of undulating hair or are nonchalantly severed à la Ren & Stimpy and served as sushi. The graphic precision and execution that forms these images of unconventional beauty in an unidentified time or space induce a behavior our mother’s once told us growing up never to do: stare. But stare is all we can do when confronted by a busty woman in a figure-hugging black lace dress holding a steamy, gleaming turkey with enough shine worthy of a L’Oréal endorsement, sinisterly adorned with warts.

These details hypnotize our attention to follow every thread, twist and furl of flesh or hair across its matte, flat surface. Awkward compositions and figurative abstractions that teeter between dichotomies of the fashionable and grotesque, the soft and the sharp beg the question, “who is she?” In the brand new body of work created for her upcoming solo exhibition, ‘Altered States’ at Various Small Fires, Los Angeles, the addition of three ‘hat sculptures’ woven and intricately braided using synthetic hair — after Méret Oppenheim’s ‘Le Déjeuner en fourrure’, (Breakfast in fur), 1936 — dramatically come to life off the canvas and join a series of sumptuous works in oil, acrylic, vinyl and gouache that continue the themes of fashion (‘Faisceaux’, 2018), secrecy (‘Voyeuse’, 2018) and still life (‘Bouquet Final’, 2018). The exhibition title, taken from the 1980s American science-fiction film ‘Altered States’, directed by Ken Russell, about a search for the self by way of floatation tanks, is an idea ironically captured by a fish swimming in a bathroom sink with a window view out to the ocean, in ‘Quarantine’ (2018). Through these winding narratives, Curtiss presents a sumptuous visual feast, rich in eroticism and Omega-3. Bon appétit.

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‘Daydreamers’, 2018 — Gouache and acrylic wash on paper. Courtesy of the artist

Curate LA’s Jonathan Velardi serves up 10 questions for the Brooklyn-based artist as she arrives in town ahead of her first solo exhibition in LA, opening this Saturday, May 19 at Various Small Fires.

1. What’s playing in your studio right now?

The LA-based podcast Reverberation Radio.

2. Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art that influences your practice. Can you explain what it is?

Ukiyo-e is a Japanese art genre that was very popular between the 17th and 19th century, using woodblock printing techniques and painting. They created a famous and uniquely Japanese flat imagery, which later influenced the French impressionists. Both movements are completely relevant to my practice.

3. Describe Christina Ramberg (1946–1995), part of the Chicago Imagists, in three words.

Twisted. Sumptuous. Patterned.

4. Favorite entrée?

Cailles en sarcophage (quails in coffins) from ‘Babette’s Feast’ (1987), directed by Gabriel Axel. The movie is so divine, you can almost taste them!

5. What do you miss most about not living in Paris?

Animated discussions and several-course dinners with friends and family.

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‘Tender button’, 2018 — Gouache and acrylic wash on paper. Courtesy of the artist

6. United States or Altered States?

Sometimes reality catches up with science-fiction in this country! It’s definitely more devolution than evolution right now.

7. Tarana Burke or Catherine Deneuve

Two sides of the same coin.

8. What Instagram account can you not live without?

@earlboykins — I need my daily cat pics fix.

9. Best actor in an artist movie goes to _________

Ingrid Bergman in ‘Autumn Sonata’ (1978). Blew my mind!

10. What LA-based artists do you follow?

Kelly Akashi, Brian Scott Campbell, Aaron Elvis Jupin, and Joshua Nathanson.

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‘Voyeuse’, 2018 — Gouache and acrylic wash on paper. Courtesy of the artist

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