To an outside observer, the creation of a work of art can seem like a magical process, with the artist dreaming up a concept and then transmuting it from pure ether into an inspired tangible object. But while the artwork may seem effortless when viewed in its final form, it is actually the product of trial and error, honed skill, experience, and in many cases , significant physical effort, all taking place in the private laboratory which is the artist’s studio. Today, artnet News has teamed up with Dobel Tequila to present the ‘In the Studio’ series, offering a rare glimpse into this mysterious process using 360-degree video technology. We have chosen artists who combine technical virtuosity with an incessant appetite for invention. Each has mastered a seemingly traditional medium – from painting to weaving to drawing – in order to take it somewhere entirely new.
The artist Julia Bland creates works of art that exist somewhere in the space between painting, sculpture and tapestry. His experimental process includes sewing, weaving, knotting, dyeing and even burning his materials. The results are beautiful abstractions with geometric compositions that have a tactile presence in the room.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, where she earned her BFA in painting, and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where she earned her MFA in painting and printmaking, Bland has recently presented exhibitions personal in New York galleries. Helena Anrather– which is showing its work at NADA Miami this week – and Stellar Projects, the latter in collaboration with MILLER, now 17 Essex.
While many artists who worked with fiber in the 1960s and 1970s avoided the traditional loom altogether, Bland incorporates it as one of many tools – alongside his trusty scissors and, of course, his hands – to turn the fabric into a transport board.
Bland first became interested in weaving, patterns and embroidery during a trip to Morocco 10 years ago, where she studied Islamic art and Sufism. The experience has become embedded in his work, which often contains intricate geometric patterns reminiscent of ornate Islamic architecture and images of serpents, a sign of death and rebirth in Sufism. Other forms in his painting-tapestry hybrids, meanwhile, resemble the suspension bridges of New York – a reminder that majesty can come from the spiritual world, the natural world and the urban world all the same.
These days, Bland is hard at work in his Brooklyn studio, quietly perfecting his craft. By fusing two traditional artistic modes – painting and weaving – Bland works to create something steeped in history and yet entirely hers. Here, watch a 360-degree video of the artist at work and read an interview about his innovative approach to creating art.
Tell me about the piece you are currently working on – what is it and is it for a particular show or destination?
I work on a series of pieces that incorporate burnt canvas, weaving and paint. The different processes produce their own shapes and textures, as well as their particular relationship to time (duration). I want to create a strong sense of direction and light, as well as inside and outside within each piece.
I’m also working on a few little pieces, which has been really exciting. The compositions evolve quickly from one to another, and I am able to explore a few ideas at the same time. These will be presented all together alongside the larger pieces of “Even Thread Has a Speech”, which is an exhibition of contemporary artists curated by Shannon Stratton in dialogue with “Lenore Tawny: Mirror of the Universe” at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center [in Sheboygan, Wisconsin] opening next fall.
What are the two or three most indispensable objects/tools in your studio, and why?
I use all kinds of tools and materials and love them all. But the thing that comes to mind is scissors. I have so many pairs and use them constantly in every stage of my work. They have a kind of silent presence, but they are the source of a lot of important movements and decisions.
When do you like to go to your studio? So what’s the first thing you do when you arrive, and why?
Most of the time, I arrive at the studio at 10 am. It’s not too early but I still feel like the morning, fresh and calm. When I first arrive, I look around for a while. It’s a good time to let things linger and settle, to figure out what’s going on and what needs to happen next.
What atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music, talk to your assistants, prefer silence? Why?
I like to work in silence; it makes the time seem long and it can be a good feeling. Usually at some point I activate WNYC. I like radio because you don’t have to think about it or adjust it. I can pay attention to it or disconnect from it; the sound of voices makes me move.
How do you know when a work is finished?
I do a lot of small drawings, think and plan before I start a big piece. The moment I really start, I have something in my mind that I want to see. It’s like watching a dream come to life, step by step it appears. By the time I’m done, there’s a feeling of gratitude.
When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to unblock yourself?
If I look around and see too much of the same thing, I’ll start by forcing some kind of practical change. For example, last June, I went to residency for the summer and I didn’t bring any red or blue paint. It forced me to find another way to communicate temperature, as well as rethink color, light and composition usually within a limited palate.
For someone encountering your work for the first time, are there any prior artists, disciplines or ideas that you think could benefit from knowing as context?
I like to read novels; a few that come to mind are Towards the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Other things… listen to the music of a Bulgarian women’s choir or cross the Brooklyn Bridge.
What is your process for creating a work, from the idea to its elaboration, including its creation and its assembly?
A part can start from a number of different places, from a certain compositional structure, from a physique or weight, from a time of day or year, from a material process or a memory. I keep a notebook and I do lots of little drawings all the time. They help me brainstorm my ideas and also work like a kind of map, with different marks indicating the process or material.
Each piece starts at a different place, some in the center, some at the edge. There is no clear order of operations. Something can be sewn then painted, or painted then sewn, or dyed then woven, or woven then dyed, etc. It’s part of the mystery, I like when the beginning and the end intertwine and get lost.
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