[Featured image: Julie Cockburn, The Telepath © the artist.]
With embroidery, scissors and glue, Julie Cockburn transforms found photographs and paintings. Much of her interventions focuses on portraits, which she manipulates to both reflect on the original meaning of the image, and to undermine it. You can see her work at the Eagle Gallery show, Migrations, on until 3 March 2017.
What are you doing today?
I’ve been in the studio today, experimenting with large-scale prints onto fabric of some of my smaller works. I’m in the process of making new embroidered photographs for a group show in Belgium at Hop Street Gallery. Also, a bit of hoovering and watching Columbo. It’s Sunday.
Tell us about your creative process
I tend to be quite disciplined about my working day as it often involves working long hours stitching or making collage. I walk my dog first thing in the morning which clears my head and gets me in the right frame of mind for what is often monotonous work. I generally use found objects and images, so my starting point is trawling the internet or car boot sales and junk shops for materials to work with.
Describe where you do most of your creative work
I sketch out designs in Photoshop onto a scanned image of a photograph before committing them to the original. This can be a quick process – it’s like sketching really – and I love the juxtaposition between the computer’s quick solution and the hand-made crafted objects that I ultimately create.
What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
It’s generally the most recent one. It’s an amazing feeling when you can’t wait to get back to the studio to see how something looks since you left it the night before, or trying a new technique etc. My latest show at The Photographers’ Gallery involved sourcing objects that Google had matched to my artworks and showing them alongside each other. There was something that seemed quite new to me about this process and I hope to expand on this for my next exhibition at Flowers Gallery in September.
What made you decide to become an artist?
I suppose going to art college was a definite step in this direction, but I never decided as such. I have always loved being creative and took a path that enabled my love of making. I studied sculpture at Central St Martins, but it could just as easily have been theatre design or graphics. I love it all.
What are the key themes in your work?
I’m interested in identity, craft and how we read photographs. My work is also concerned with formal composition, and a truth to materials.
What would you like people to notice in your work?
It is wonderful when I see people peering closely at my work to see my handicraft. I am often asked if I embroider by hand, which I do. It’s rewarding that the time and effort I put in is appreciated.
What attracts you to the mediums you work in?
I think the main attraction has something to do with integrity. They are what they are, not pastiche or pretence. There is a generic quality, not only to the images I choose, but to the photograph as object. This gives me the room to add my interventions.
What equipment could you not do without?
My glasses. My eyes are terrible and my work is so precise. Also, Radio 4. It keeps me informed, sane and lulls me through the day. I use computer programmes, tiny needles, and pH neutral adhesives in my work. It is enabled and constrained by other people’s inventions.
Who or what inspires you?
I never know how to answer this question. I tend to be inspired by the found objects and photos that I work with – it’s like entering into a sort of conversation with them. But I’m sure there are things I’ve seen, felt, read, either recently or in the distant past, that unconsciously inform my work.
How does gender affect your work?
I find it easier to interact with images of women when working with portrait photographs. I hope to convey a sense of the undisclosed emotions not apparent in a head and shoulders shot, and being a woman gives me a better insight I suppose.
What’s your favourite gallery, or place to see or experience art?
I look at a lot of art online. My favourite place to visit is the British Museum, just for the eclectic nature of their collection. I go there more often in my head – a museum of my imagination where I see 5th Century BC bronze amulets and Chinese porcelain from some Dynasty or other. I recently went to Charleston, the home of the Bloomsbury Group in East Sussex, which is extraordinary.
If you could own one piece of art, what would it be and why?
One of Picasso’s portraits.
If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be, and why?
Carl Fabergé. His use of design, colour and materials is immaculate. I have, for some time now, wanted to make some jewels.
Is there an artist, movement or collective you’d like to see re-evaluated, or a contemporary artist who is underrated?
Historical women artists. I am sure there were many more women making important art than are celebrated.