Interview by Amanda Quinn Olivar, Editor
Born in Oakland, Julie Green spent her youth in the far east—Contra Costa County in Northern California. Her artistic influences and inspirations come from Diane Arbus, Oskar Schlemmer, Willam de Kooning, Paul Klee, David Hockney, Ruth Asawa, Barbara Hepworth, Bill Owens, Imogen Cunningham, George Gross, and the world of Andy Warhol. Since 1985, Julie has used the medium of photography as a vehicle to explore the psyche of the human condition. She attended The San Francisco Art Academy while still in high school, and graduated from San Francisco State University in 1991 with a degree in Fine Art Photography, under the tutelage of Jack Welpot and Don Worth.
Amanda Quinn Olivar: To begin with... why do you make art?
Julie Pavlovski Green: Like most creative people it just flows out of me; I am only a conduit. I am the happiest when I am creating something from nothing. There is pure joy in creating tangible work that has culminated from my overall life experiences. I want to bring that joy into other people’s lives, and show them that there is a lot more to life that is good, meaningful and uplifting.
Amanda: How would you describe your work and the cast of characters you photograph?
Julie: I have been a portrait photographer for over 30 years and have never become bored with studying the human characteristics found in facial features. I enjoy interpreting what I see, and try to capture the internal essence I see in each individual I photograph. That is why my merry band of pranksters are usually very close friends and family members. I am familiar with their nuances enough to make choices in my interpretations of their character.
Amanda: Tell me about the ideology behind your practice... Are you exploring memories and personal experiences?
Julie: It’s a visual conversation about my relationship between me and the sitter, by putting into visual form the knowledge I have about that person. It is also a deep desire to go back to using my hands. I am so overly saturated with the digital world that I just refuse to sit down in front of the computer to create my art. Don’t get me wrong—the computer is a life changing tool that I have embraced, but I needed to break away from the desk and physically feel my work again. All the portraits in this body of work were shot with a 1965 Rolleiflex camera, with black and white film. The 7x7" prints are threaded with embroidery floss while the larger 40x40" prints are stitched with yarn.
It’s about the process—as well as the tactile surface of the final image—that guides my ideology, behind my practice. My desire to work with fiber on photographs takes the craft out of embroidery. I want to elevate the common thread from a traditionally female domestic craft to a visual work of art. The exploration of feminism in the history of this craft was first introduced to me in The Feminist Art History Collective's founding member Rozsika Parker's 1984 groundbreaking publication "The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine". Getting back to making something by hand is rewarding and contemplative. It takes me away from the constant use of technology, back to a place where creating takes time and allows for introspection.
Amanda: Did your upbringing and early life influence your artistic path?
Julie: I had a very joyful childhood, which I think is reflected in my work. Growing up in Berkeley in the early '70s was a visual Smorgasbord! The graphics of the '60s and '70s have left an indelible mark on my aesthetics. The bolder the better! Black outlines with bold colors sing to me. My parents liked to paint and I was encouraged to create from a very early age.
I grew up around the artist Ruth Asawa. Her daughter had married a cousin of mine, so our families generally knew each other. I remember my mother would bring me to San Francisco to attend her arts educational programs when I was quite young. I was recognized as gifted child in the arts in elementary school. I also got a grant to attend three consecutive summer programs at The San Francisco Art Academy during high school. I was also lucky enough to grow up around my friend’s father Carmine DeVivi, a designer, sculptor and printmaker who had been a lecturer and Professor of Art at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. Studying photography under Jack Welpot, Don Worth and Steve Harper helped me find my visual voice.
Amanda: Was there a specific moment or impetus that inspired your embroidery series? Do the materials and image feed off of each other?
Julie: I was photographing Kim Shattuck from The Muffs for a series I was doing called A Day in the Life of a Rock ‘n’ Roller. While we were photographing her throughout her neighborhood, she momentarily stopped in front of a Tudor home. As I walked around her, I could see a “hat” perfectly sitting on top of her head. I captured it immediately! As soon as I printed the image, I had the desire to color and fill in the hat texturally to make it pop out against the black and white portrait. So, I punctured a few holes in the paper and took some thread to it. I experimented with machine stitching, but it was too limiting. The project eventually evolved into hand stitching using embroidery floss which is much thicker and bolder than thread.
Amanda: When you set up a sitting, are you creating a sculpture or a photograph?
Julie: I’m setting up a stage for my band of characters to be captured on! Actually, your question is very relative to my work. I have been trying to break out of the two-dimensionalities of the flat surface of the photograph for many years. I have thought about turning to 3-dimensional space and exploring it through paper sculptures. But as long as I continue to be fascinated by interrupting the single plane imposed on the photographic surface. I will continue to work on pulling their perspectives into a more sculptural plane.
Amanda: Talk about your technique and process... and how your use of materials changes reality, to manipulate and play with space and dimension.
Julie: This body of work attempts to interpret the internal world of each individual in a visual external form. I have tried to describe personality, character, preferences and passions in colors and form. It grew from my frustration with the presentation of these images becoming flattened out again once they were reproduced. This exhibition came to being because these pieces need to be seen in person to visually feel their tactile 3-dimensional characteristics.
Amanda: Is there room for spontaneity in your work?
Julie: Spontaneity certainly shapes my work but I wouldn’t describe it as impulsive; it’s more intuitive.
Amanda: The title of your inaugural exhibition at MUZEUMM Gallery in Los Angeles is ‘Home As Hat – Flora As Fashion’. Is there a story behind the title?
Julie: This series of photographs emphasizes correlations between the portrait and its surrounding environment. The hat becomes a metaphor for shelter, giving us refuge, a place we call home, protection where we feel a sense of security. Fashion is a mask, an object that can cover our identity; it can cloak and protect us against ourselves, the elements and other people. It helps us to create characters we long to be... It reflects and tries to emulate beauty found in nature.
Amanda: Please relate a memory that influenced or changed your life and career.
Julie: Working as an intern for Jean-Louis Pierson at ShowNTell Gallery in San Francisco influenced how I looked and thought about art. Also seeing Ruth Asawa balance a career while at the same time raising six children showed me that you CAN have it all, if you are willing to work hard.
Amanda: What is your favorite art accident?
Julie: The ones you least expect!
Feature Self-Portrait and all images courtesy of the artist.
HOME AS HAT – FLORA AS FASHION: A NEW BODY OF WORK BY JULIE GREEN
Exhibit runs June 1 — June 22, 2019 at MuzeuMM, Los Angeles.