Artist Spotlight & Interview: Julie Leach

February 19, 2021
ARTIST SPOTLIGHT & INTERVIEW 

JULIE LEACH
Saturday 20th February 2021
Julie Screenprinting

We are delighted to represent Julie Leach and show her works in our Walton Street Gallery.

Julie is an artist printmaker who works with the elements, primarily the wind, to document the invisible forces of nature. Her interests lie in exploring phenomena of transience, ephemerality and intangibility. By facilitating “nature as artist” she creates drawings, screen prints and etchings that express extraordinary lightness, energy and movement.

Current work by Julie Leach
 

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW 

February 2021

BH: Julie, Thank You for taking the time to talk to us today for our Artist Spotlight. We have really enjoyed hearing the responses from various artists over the last few weeks. A big question, perhaps, but what led you to be inspired to create such unique elemental drawings?

Julie: How do you draw the invisible? How do you capture the essence of the fleeting and the intangible? These are questions that have framed my art practice for many years and continue to intrigue on a daily basis. I go out into nature every day, camera in hand. What draws me are the transient marvels than may be gone within hours, if not minutes or seconds of my being there. Dew on a cobweb, flickering sunlight through trees, marram grass blowing in the wind making lines in the sand.
 
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Megan visiting Julie's Home Studio in Autumn 2020 (socially distanced!)
 
BH: What is the your artistic process when you embark on creating a new piece? 

Julie: Although those photos focus my eyes and thoughts, they are never the end result. All my processes are non-digital, haptic, hands on. When I make my work there is no barrier between me and the forces of nature I engage with. On the contrary, I am regularly soaked by the rain and all but blown away by the wind in the course of the often lengthy drawing processes. One piece recently took four days and nights, another was moved one centimetre every ten minutes for eight hours. There’s no snap of the shutter and run for cover.

Daily inspiration
 
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BH: Since the elements plays such a major role in your work, are there "perfect conditions" or any weather cycles that you particularly love working with? 

Julie: I’m particularly fond of working with storms, their wildness so real, exciting and invigorating compensating for the safe, the comfortable and often virtual experience indoors. There’s a great oak tree, about half a mile from my house, normally so solid it rarely so much as nods in my direction but during Storm Ophelia (16.10.2017) it moved with the dynamism of a dancer and it drew with the same lyricism. Standing beneath its great boughs felt anything but safe. The drawings produced that day hold those emotions in their wonderful flowing yet unpredictable marks.
Working in a Storm
Earlier works have included titles such as ‘The Not Quite Thereness of Things’, ‘Vestige’ and ‘Traces of Identity’. These works explored disintegration of matter, the unreliability of memory and the presence of that which is intangible. All aspired to evidence the temporary, the invisible or the absent.
Julie: There’s nothing sentimental or melancholy in my ventures on the edge of non-existence nor any thoughts that might imply impassivity. My journey is forward looking, actively searching out the fresh, transient, fleeting moment, the unrepeatable. Abstraction lends itself to this flexibility of mind encouraging an inventiveness and continuity of thought where the representational might offer a static or end view, a suggestion of permanence. I like to work in a way that lacks containment, that offers freedom and a refusal to fit a particular genre or world view. I guess thinking differently creates art that is different and I have often been told that I’m like a loose cannon, unpredictable. I choose to see it as an asset.
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Earlier work c. 2014
Elemental I – screen print - 2020
Julie: At my core there is a preference for trial and error, rather than reading the instruction manual, for experimentation and discovery over following what’s gone before. Was I inspired by someone or something to be like that? I don’t know. I remember being outraged by the ‘Painting by Numbers’ kit I was given as a child – as if my role was to fulfil someone else’s game plan. Later I became a dance educationalist and was similarly incensed that children were expected to learn adult movements and choreography as if they’re own were inadequate. I’ve always fought against the tyranny of technique which can be as disabling as it is enabling, constantly putting a barrier between the individual and the creative act. How many adults don’t dance, sing, draw or act because they’re waiting to be taught instead of just doing it and learning through that doing. I guess Isadora Duncan would have to be my icon in this regard, taking off her shoes and dancing barefoot in nature – nobody told her how to do that!

‘You were once wild here, don’t let them tame you.”   Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan – dancing with her own natural movement vocabulary having rejected traditional ballet techniques.

Photo Credit
Julie working with children’s own natural movement responses to the environment as a dance educationalist in 2010.
BH: Can you tell us a bit more about your current work and how the idea of the ancient aesthetic philosophy Wabi Sabi informs your work?

Julie: My current work has been arrived at through the study of eastern philosophy resulting in a conscious prioritisation of nature as the primary artist in the work. Having once facilitated children’s creativity, I now have a similar role as a facilitator for nature’s creativity. Perhaps this is partly a horror of our arrogant abuse of nature. Maybe presenting the awe and power of natural forces is my questioning of our place in the hierarchy. Certainly, when I work with winds in excess of 40 mph, I know my own vulnerability and find a perspective that diminishes personal ego and context. What might seem important in the moment suddenly seems insignificant within a larger world view of time and place. On the other hand, it may simply be a new way to dance now that my own body has become constrained by age and diminished ability. Movement and energy have always been fundamental to my sense of self.
Projection collaboration with New Wave Arts - 2020
Julie: Aesthetically I’ve always been drawn to the patterns of nature in preference to the man-made, to asymmetry over symmetry, to the imperfect over the pristine. As a child I couldn’t cope with repeated patterns in wallpapers, my eyes following them relentlessly, scrambling my brain. I remember when Collier Campbell designs first came on the interior’s scene in the 1980s, I was so grateful for their radically less discernible repeat. The marks in my wind drawings don’t repeat but seem to alter effortlessly and infinitely. Of course, human marks pass through the brain, they are conceived and thereby bring with them a degree of contrivance and limitation. Calligraphers spend years in practice and meditation to avoid that contrivance in their work. Nature, by contrast, achieves it with such ease.
Julie’s ‘Wind Silk’ 2017
1960’s style repeat wallpaper & 1980’s Collier Campbell fabric
BH: Have you been inspired by other artists who have worked with the elements of Nature, whilst you have been developing your practice?

Julie: I am undoubtedly standing on the shoulders of giants and for me artists who connect deeply with nature such as Richard Long, David Nash, Andrew Goldsworthy no doubt influenced my broad perception of art and its relationship with the environment. Perhaps more directly the work of ceramicist Peter Hayes has affected me deeply. Peter deliberately relinquishes control to the processes of nature in his work, putting ceramics into river, sea or open fire for extended periods of time, embracing the disruption created in his forms with a notable ‘que sera’. These are all attitudes of mind that I have absorbed and are evident in my own practice. I don’t ever pre-empt or predict, there is no outcome I’m aiming for. The whole process is a meditation on acceptance of what will be will be.
Wind Dance V – screen print - 2019 & Detail of Wind Drawing 22.08.2020
BH: We have had such a lovely chat about your practice, and I suppose in many ways, your practice has been unaffected in the sense that you have been able to be inspired by nature, and getting out on your daily walks, etc. Do you feel like the last year or so has shaped your practice at all?

Julie: Whilst inevitably aware of the stress and suffering in the wider world, my own life is remarkably unaltered. I haven’t been able to get to the print studio at the GPC in Stroud but I have continued drawing and exploring from home. I have new work in progress exploring frost, cobweb and rock drawings/prints made directly from nature, without a press or screen. Sometimes constraints can be the greatest of creative instigators.
Work in progress – experimental drawings / prints
Julie: I think many artists have coped well through this time possibly because they already place value in what is immediately under their noses. They have no need for distant adventures or other distractions because artists need reflective time and are comfortable with their own small journeys of mind and vision. I am grateful for the camaraderie of my Instagram connections and the supportive communications from my gallerists but at the end of the day I’ve relished the time apart to indulge in nature and in my work.
Julie in her studio at home in Worcester with a sneaky peek into her plan chest of goodies …..
….. and at the print studio at the GPC (Gloucestershire Printmaking Collective) in Stroud where she makes her screen prints and etchings.