Julia Randall’s Drawing Licensed for Album Cover
Julia Randall, Associate Professor of Art at Wesleyan, uses drawing and sculpture to depict — and in many ways challenge– the discomforts of being human. She welcomes and highlights the beautiful and repulsive elements of the human experience through vivid imagery. Recently, her 2003 piece, Lick Line #23, was licensed by Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq for her album Tongues; we were delighted to interview Julia to learn more about this piece and her current work in Bologna, Italy!
Could you share a bit about this piece and the Lick Line collection?
The drawing on the cover, Lick Line #23, is part of a larger series of 40 drawings of disembodied mouths floating in space. The series was borne from an exercise that I set for myself, to simply learn how to draw a mouth and tongue accurately. I set up in front of a mirror to draw my own mouth from observation. I ended up loving the intense focus, and the intimacy in the drawings that stemmed from scrutinizing and rendering every detail of a part of the body that we see all the time, yet is also very private. The mouth is the body’s critical site, where we eat, speak, kiss and bite; it is both ferocious and tender.
As the series developed, I incorporated photography as a point of departure, which allowed me to depict saliva bubbles, the fine membrane where inside and outside touch, for the briefest moment.
Similar to Lick Line #23, many of your pieces present intimate illustrations of body parts. Can you describe this fascination, as well as the artistic process it requires?
My approach to the human figure in my drawings is often fragmented or decontextualized to unsettle our expectations, or to create a voyeuristic relationship with the viewer. I want to convey the experience of human corporeality, from our erotic responses to our physical vulnerabilities. There are other subjects in my work that serve as surrogates for the human body (chewing gum, birds) and are also represented out of their normal context, drawn with the same intimacy. Ultimately, I want to create images that allow space for a viewer to project their own personal meaning onto the drawings.
As far as my artistic process: I start in the idea phase, and I print out images, multiple photos, and sketches that attract me. Then I cut everything into pieces as a fast way to create relationships between parts — a Frankenstein approach. This allows me to quickly see a variety of iterations for an idea. I draw using colored pencil which is quite unforgiving, so I do all of my experimenting before I commit to drawing an image.
You are currently living and working in Bologna, Italy! Can you elaborate on your interest in the wax anatomical models at the Palazzo Poggi museum? How does it influence your work?
Palazzo Poggi houses an extensive collection of objects created in pursuit of scientific inquiry, including amazing wax anatomical models from the 18th century, made by Anna Morandi Manzolini, considered to be the first woman anatomist. I just adore these models. It is not hard to see why; they are sculptures of body parts or systems, isolated and removed from their context, highly detailed, and often presented with decorative, ornamental stands or fabric. These objects were made after intense observation and mastery, for the purpose of teaching scientists about the systems housed within our bodies, prior to photographic record. I am attracted to them visually and conceptually. My approach to drawing borrows heavily from the visual language and traditions of “the specimen.”
You alluded to a preference for visuals without supplemental text. Can you expand upon this?
Yes, I am a bit text-phobic when creating images in my work. I think that written language is so primary to how we create meaning, and risks being overly “heavy” in an artwork. I want to create drawings that are mysterious, that have multiple interpretations, and I fear that incorporating text will pin down meaning.
Having said this, there are many artists I love who use text in their work.
While you’ve worked with sculpture, pencil and drawing does seem to be your preferred medium. Why is this?
For me, drawing is the most intimate art form. The evidence of touch in making marks on a surface, and the directness of drawing sit at the center of who I am as an artist. Everyone has sketched at some point, and can intuitively relate to a drawing. I also love paper; the “nudity” of the surface is so accessible! I have tried painting, but I couldn’t warm to canvas as a surface, or the brush as a tool that distanced my hand from making marks.
I am also interested in making three-dimensional work, which began with my desire to create objects to draw. These sculptures took on a life of their own, and led me to the opportunity to attend the Arts/Industry Artist’s Residency Program, run by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin. I was able to create casts of my sculptures in cast iron and brass, which has a completely different material language than drawing!
After Bologna, you are heading to Valencia, Spain to work on a collaborative print project! Can you share more about this project? How will it challenge you as an artist?
Yes, I am very excited about this! I was invited by a duo of artists/printers in Valencia who run a printshop, Amimales de Lorca. They invite artists to live and work in Valencia, to realize a collaborative project involving various print methodologies. I am making an artist’s book, using the drawings I did at Palazzo Poggi as a point of departure. The shift from drawing to letterpress processes has been challenging for me, because it means that I must draw differently than I am accustomed. I am learning the marking techniques that were employed in 18th century anatomical engravings, source materials that I love and that I have referenced for many years.