WIA artist profile: Julie Umerle is an American-born artist who lives and works in London. She graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City with an MFA in Painting, following a BA (1st Class Hons) in Fine Art from Falmouth University, Cornwall. Umerle makes work that explores the processes of abstract painting. Her practice is an investigation of materials and the perception of the image, combining an experimental approach to materials with precision and thought. Umerle is the recipient of a number of awards from Arts Council England and her work is collected by global brands such as Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale Bank and Pinsent Masons LLP. Umerle is represented in several museums and private collections and this month she’s taking part in ‘Another World – Charity Postcard Sale’, Deutsche Bank Lounge, Frieze Art Fair, 4 – 7 October 2018, curated by Tracey Emin in association with Deutsche Bank Wealth Management and Deutsche Bank Art, Culture & Sports with funds raised going to the London Community Foundation to fund projects to help vulnerable women in the community.
WIA: What are you doing today?
Julie Umerle: Today I’m in the studio planning my next series of paintings, writing a shopping list of art materials as well as making a few sketches. I’ve selected the colours and the size of stretchers I want to work with, and checked my stock to see what materials I already have.
WIA: Tell us about your creative process.
JU: The creative process is always a mysterious one to pin down. I tend to paint in series so that one idea will develop from the previous and runs seamlessly throughout my work. In a sense, an idea is always developing and never really complete.
WIA: Describe where you do most of your creative work.
JU: I do most of my creative work in the studio, a converted fire station in the East End of London. The building is over 100 years old. There are 18 studios in the building but most of the time there’s very few people there during the day. My studio is a large square space. It has a wonderful skylight and a wall of windows. It’s freezing cold in winter!.
WIA: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
JU: I would say the most exciting project I’ve worked on so far has been my MFA exhibition in a New York gallery, where I showed a few key paintings from my two years of study at Parsons School of Art. It was the culmination of so many new ideas and wonderful experiences that came from that time.
WIA: What made you decide to become an artist?
JU: I’ve always had an artist’s temperament and an ability to paint. For many years, I couldn’t find where I fitted into the world. I’ve always felt an outsider. When I finally decided to become an artist, it was with a sense of relief. I could then concentrate on learning my craft and work towards developing my practice.
WIA: What are you currently working on?
JU: I have recently made four pieces for a secret art postcard sale, ‘Another World’, an exhibition of original artworks to be shown at the Deutsche Bank Lounge during Frieze London. To celebrate 100 years of women getting the vote, Tracey Emin has curated the exhibition by living female artists from the Deutsche Bank collection. There are over 220 female artists taking part. All cards will be sold in aid of charity supporting vulnerable women. A selection of these will be sold online during Frieze, commencing 5 October 2018. Here’s a link to the online sale.
WIA: Do you listen to music while you work, and if so, what’s your soundtrack?
JU: I always used to listen to loud music whilst painting (much to the annoyance of my studio neighbours) but now I often work in silence or tuned in to Radio Four.
WIA: What are the key themes in your work?
JU: Colour, space and mark-making are the key themes in my work.
WIA: What would you like people to notice in your work?
JU: I’d like people to engage with my work through whatever means. I believe a painting should be able to communicate for itself without the viewer being directed towards a particular understanding.
WIA: What attracts you to the mediums you work in?
JU: As an abstract artist I love the physicality and substance of paint, the fluidity of the medium. I love working with colour (or sometimes in monochrome). I enjoy changing the appearance and consistency of the paint through the use of various additives. I am always surprised by what can be achieved, either working with the natural flow of the medium or trying to control it.
WIA: What equipment could you not do without?
JU: I could not do without my paint brushes. Some of them are very old and battered. Some are worn out and barely functioning. Others are more cared for. They are all invaluable.
WIA: Who or what inspires you?
JU: Frida Kahlo inspires me. There’s a postcard of her pinned up on my studio wall which I look at frequently. It’s a photograph of Frida Kahlo in Mexico with one of her surgeons, Dr Farik. She sits beside an easel, palette and brushes in hand.
WIA: How does gender affect your work?
JU: It’s much more difficult to gain recognition as a female artist. But there seems to be a serious attempt to change the gender balance within the art world at the moment which is long overdue.
WIA: What’s your favourite gallery, or place to see or experience art?
JU: My favourite place to see art is at Tate Modern in London.
WIA: If you could own one piece of art, what would it be and why?
JU: I would choose a painting by a living artist. I could live very happily with any of the Tomma Abts’ paintings that I saw in the Serpentine Gallery this summer.
WIA: If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be, and why?
JU: I would have liked to have collaborated with Joan Mitchell, a second-generation Abstract Expressionist. She worked at a time when female artists were even less visible than they are now. Yet she succeeded in becoming one of the foremost abstract painters of her generation. I particularly admire the energy of her paintings.
WIA: Is there an artist, movement or collective you’d like to see re-evaluated, or a contemporary artist who is underrated?
JU: So many contemporary artists working today are underrated, particularly painters. I think it would be unfair to pick out just one.
WIA: What’s your favourite colour 🙂
JU: My favourite colour is Blue.
Another World: Charity Postcard Sale online auction