1 With a wide array of influences and styles, mixed-media artist Julie Friel effortlessly jumps from canvas to walls and everything in between. We got a chance to interview the multi-talented artist and ask her a few questions.
2 IHLET: When you start your painting do you begin with a certain message or does it evolve naturally?
Julie: It depends. Most paintings begin intuitively. At first, I allow it to be a physical process. I gather all my paints and brushes and place them at my feet as I stand before a large canvas. I pump up some music and just begin slinging colors. Sometimes a blank canvas can be intimidating, so slinging some paint on it without thought is fucking liberating. However, there comes a point, usually 30 minutes into it that I begin to reclaim the surface and begin to see formations in their most primitive beginnings. I step back, and search the surface, underneath the newly formed labyrinth of lines, textures, and pigments and I see cities, landscapes, urban figures, and animals, and I begin to decipher it, pull out what is relevant to me at that time. I compare this to a writers brainstorming session. All of my lines and gestures, textures, and colors are words. It is a jumbled story. It’s a partially intuitive, because there is that moment where I consciously begin to make decisions on the canvas.A lot of times, figures that are born from this process I reused again in a direct matter. They may take the form of wheat pastes for the streets. And also, one painting may set the foundation for more paintings with a similar vibe, thus creating a series. I have created a few works with a very specific plan in mind most are political. I created a sticker series with a lone soldier sullen and looking downward. Beside that soldier, I would hand write the tally of deaths of U.S. Troops in the Iraq war. Some of them also included the entire tally of all the troops from almost every participating country. And more importantly, the civilian death toll was always noted.’Tar and Feather’ was another series of streets works that also evolved into a gallery show @ Hardcore Art Contemporary Spaces. The series was based on the Gulf oil spill. I created a few stencils of animals that were affected by the oil spill, I took the stencils to the walls of the city and began to spray them up in black, I carried a bucket of water down black/brown paint and would splash each painted stencil. The animal figures appeared drenched, and the fluid black paint would drip down the wall and form small puddles on the sidewalk.
3 IHLET: You state cave paintings as some of your influences, how did you get introduced to that medium?
Julie: I learned a lot about primitive art in college. I took every class that would teach me more, I traveled to places in the US where I could see and touch true petroglyphs. I can feel the soil around the rocks; embrace the air, the rain, the weather that collected around them, tried to imagine myself in a different time, visited Sego Canyon, and further on, I saw the ‘Holy Ghost’, I meandered down the Grand Canyon to see the blessings on its walls, I have wandered the Oregon Desert to see ancient drawings. These simple drawings are truth, life, power, and god. They are recipes for life, calendars telling you when to grow your food, as well as depicted beasts to eat, and places to seek grace/enlightenment.I love these drawings, the simplification of plant life, the way the figures are blunt, and I adore the animal depictions. I use animals in my work all the time. But I prefer to draw them in my own way. To depict them in all of their simplicity, their curiosities, their powers, their stories, what they mean to us, and what we mean to them. I continuously merge man and animal in my drawings. I also include parts/textures of fauna that I have observed. Again, I think that goes back to primitive art. Breaking objects down to their simplistic form, yet they still radiate in their entirety. So sometimes I have a blunt image/ a figure, yet it will gain its depth by the small but numerous hieroglyphics of my own making, along with other patterns from local fauna, or from mechanical objects. These simple contour figures become full and richer. I heavily rely on this process.
4 IHLET: The inspirations you grab from your childhood were they positive or negative ones? How do you incorporate that into your work?
Julie: My childhood inspirations are positive. I grew up in rural Dade County. I lived about a mile from the bay where land crabs smothered the road; I swear it belonged in a Hitchcock flick! But my friend and I would wander the woods, play in the trees, discover animals, fish, and just roam this feral world of ours. I look back now, and that the world is gone. Farm fields have been mowed, and concrete has been poured for homes. Amazing natural pine rock lands have had similar deaths. But my memories are still pure and what helps to maintain that spark is by keeping in touch with those same 8 year old boys and girls from back in the day.My matchbox Books contain a lot of those stories. And when I say stories, basically I mean adventures broken down into objects or images. Some of my matchbox books have these roaming landscapes of how I remember Southern Florida as a kid. I also have matchbox Books that contain an object. And the object can be a simple rock, or some mangled piece of metal, or seeds. The object books have a young and naive nature to them. When your kid walking around, you think the neatest thing in the world is some random piece of junk you found when walking along a trail. It becomes precious cargo that we stuff in our pockets. And so I continue that process. I am always scanning the ground, looking for that cool discarded or natural object on the ground. Something I can stuff in my pocket, something that I will stuff in my matchbox book.
5 IHLET: Having been born and raised in Miami, FL. How has that molded you as an artist?
Julie: I feel as I have been raised in multiple Miami’s. My neighborhood as a kid was pretty rural. The bay wasn’t far, so it was nothing to hop on your bike with a fishing pole in hand and pedal for about 5min. Hop off our bikes to steal a couple mangos, and then hop back on to ride an old trail down to the bay. That purity is gone. In my teens, I went to an all-black school and met new people, heard new music, and embraced it all. I Met Latin Kings (lol), graf writers, listen to rap, and that was my life. That is when I first started paying attention to graffiti.As an artist, I have been able to be humble to learn and to listen to the stories that are being told on the canvases of other artists from all over the Caribbean, Latin America, and other countries. They bring a style, a narration, and they give this story up willingly. And I appreciate the education and diversion they have given.
6 IHLET: You went to ‘art school’. Would you recommend that path for up and coming artist?
Julie: About art school: STUDENT LOANS SUCK!!!! That’s a Yes and No question for me at the time. I wonder where I would be without it. There is a valuable education to be found in all of the art history courses. And I don’t think I would have sought that information to such depths on my own. Yeah, everyone knows Van Gogh, Picasso, the Renaissance, etc. But it is so much deeper. And discovering the revolutions the artists that emerged, transitions in style and thought over the centuries is a valuable education.Also, you are able to enter any studio, any medium, and have every tool at your disposal. And that is very necessary. I feel like the more mediums you can utilize, the more power an artist has.There had been many times when I have had an idea to build something, and I don’t have a clue to how to turn that idea into a reality. I think that the university helps you to define yourself as an artist.At least I feel that was the focus at FIU. I think they wanted you to find your own role in art history.The teachers that hold close to my heart are Juan Martinez, and Clive King. King taught me to draw the way I draw. He didn’t try to mold me, yet the fundamentals where instilled. And Martinez taught me why it’s important to be an artist and to continue its history, and to know its history, its purpose, and your own purpose in it.
7 IHLET: Have you had a single person influence you whether a teacher, or friend, or has it been a collection of people or experiences?
Julie: The 2 teachers above have influenced me. My friends have encouraged me when I have felt less than. And being around artsy friends always stirs those ideas inside you. Their accomplishment as artists inspires me to dig deeper, to create more. Being without a group of artists friends is like being stagnate. I need them. And I am influenced by a lot of the artists that I don’t know personally, but I love their energy, and what they are creating. David Choe, BLU, Dolla, Shepar Fairey, Michael De Feo, PEZ, way too many to name!
8 IHLET: How did you get into painting skateboards? I have to admit I want one?
Julie: I am a late 70’s kid. Everyone had those fat wood decks with stickers all over the belly of the board. They would become old and shredded with glimpses of text and color, kind of like a Jackson Pollock piece. Just loved all of it.I was cleaning out my garage, and there it was…an old school board, damaged and beautiful. I wanted to paint it, but it already looked like a raw Pollock! So I picked up some blank decks. I had just been to Alaska seeking some more of that primitive art. Also, had the opportunity to watch part of the carving process of an Inuit totem. And of course they merge man and animal to tell stories about life, morals, and tradition. The totems have these figures with large eyes, wicked snarls all stacked on one another…loved it. So that was the inspiration behind the first ones. I was stacking my beasts.Then I began to add more urban imagery like dogs and hoodie dudes. Then another transition occurred. I started painting them and adding collage. Kind of like the torn shredded stickers on the belly of that old board I found a way back.I really dig those the most. I feel they are more personal, a lot simpler, yet intimate drawing. They feel like books to me.
9 IHLET: Do you have a preferred medium to work on whether its canvas, skateboards, or objects?
Julie: I like working on all of it. Right now, I am on my way back to canvas, and there is always a random skateboard, or I am making a book. I dig making books. There is something more personal about that. I think it’s cool that it’s a piece of art that you are required to touch and feel, to turn the page and be part of the experience.
10 IHLET: What would you tell the person looking to buy your work?
Julie: I don’t think I have ever talked to a person buying my work. I am really shy, really shy. At my openings, I kind of hide. But, I think art is an investment. They are investing in my progression. And I think about all the people that have bought my art, and I don’t want to let them down. That thought gives me the integrity to continue this adventure, although difficult, but worth every bit.
11 IHLET: Any last words you want to share with our readers?
Julie: Artists are documenting the human condition with the same intensity of any scholar. I will continue to sling paint, and tell you what I have seen, my failures, my beliefs, and take you on my journeys through the images I create.