21 Questions For Anti-Finish Fetishist and "Tacky Fabrics" Redeemer Julia Dault

Exhibition view, Julia Dault, Jessica Bradley, Toronto, January 25–March 9, 2013
(Courtesy the artist and Jessica Bradley, Toronto)

Name: Julia Dault

Age: 35


Occupation: Artist

City/Neighborhood: Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

Your current exhibition at Jessica Bradley in Toronto includes paintings on vinyl, pleather, drawer liner, and other unconventional materials. What attracts you to these types of surfaces?

I like the notion of thwarting one’s own good taste or of finding balance between the beautiful and the hideous. Costume pleather, vinyl, printed denim, fluorescent spandex — these substrates also give the work commercially produced “found” color that is revealed through my painting process. I use tools (combs for texturizing plaster, door handles, paddles) instead of brushes because they restrict my mark-making, making it traceable, anti-illusionistic, and self-evident—less about my need to convey an emotional state and more about my wanting to provide the viewer with indexical information. Sometimes I’ll cut “windows” into the materials to reveal what’s underneath in an effort to achieve utmost transparency. It’s “what you see is what you see,” yet, ideally, the sum of the painting’s parts supersedes what one knows to be true. Ultimately, I can never predict the exact effect of paint plus tool plus, say, costume pleather or overstock Hawaiian-print silk, and it is this infinite possibility and surprise — within the strictures of tool and surface — that I find enlivening.

Part of what makes your sculptures so interesting is how delicate and precarious they seem. How difficult are they to assemble, and do they ever come apart?

I build with rules: no advance planning, no assistance, no cutting or trimming, no drilling or gluing. All of the forms are bent and tethered by me in the space where they’ll be shown. The sheets of mirrored Plexiglas, the Tambour, the sharp-edged Formica — they can all be unwieldy. But part of what I’m after is pitting my physical (and aesthetic) sensibilities against the properties and characteristics of the materials I work with. It’s me versus the materials, with the titles referring directly to the date and duration of the piece’s construction. The installed sculptures haven’t yet come apart, though another of my rules is that if they were to suddenly break free during an exhibition, then that would be that. I imagine it would be a scene of devastation: some odd montage of noose-like Everlast straps dangling from the wall and splayed sheets of color on the floor. In fact, though they look quite precarious, they are securely insecure.

Your works, especially the sculptures, seem to be in part a reaction against Minimalism — especially the Finish Fetish artists of Southern California. Is there an artist or movement that has been especially important to your development?

I’ll never shake my devotion to the minimal aesthetic, yet embedded in my practice is a critique of phoned-in fabrication, the notion that the maker and the making can be divorced. I equate my aesthetic to a dirty Minimalism, arguably the exact opposite of Finish Fetish work. The scrapes or bumps that can occur while making the sculptures (or that pre-exist when I use salvaged materials) are a form of embodied knowledge, evidence of the presence of the maker. At the same time, I’d never let process reign. What I’m after is a balance between a transparent process and an undeniably seductive final form. This balance applies to the paintings, too. My interest in anti-illusionism and transparency leads me to try and make it possible for viewers to retrace the steps of each painting’s materialization.

What project are you working on now?

A few things: I’ve been working toward two simultaneous solo exhibitions that will open in Zurich (with Galerie Bob van Orsouw) and New York (with Harris Lieberman Gallery) during the first week of the fall season. I’m also about to begin a print edition with the Brodsky Center for Print Innovation at Rutgers, and am working on a few other projects that I have to remain hush about.

What’s the last show that you saw?

“Inventing Abstraction” at MoMA.

Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.

I wake up very early; read the paper with breakfast; walk to the studio; work all day, stopping only for lunch; go to the gym; go home; have dinner with my husband; read; and go to bed early. If a friend has an opening, I’ll stop painting a little earlier to attend.

What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

My stapler.

Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?

Because I paint using a variety of tools on a number of different surfaces, many of my ideas come from browsing the aisles of hardware stores (for tools) or strange, suburban craft stores (for fabrics). But, more generally, ideas come from everywhere: music, the subway, fashion, the news, reading, conversations, patterns…

Do you collect anything?

At one point I was collecting mugs (favorites: GOOD GIRLS GO TO HEAVEN, BAD GIRLS GO TO AMSTERDAM, and my Michelle Obama mug), but we recently moved and decided to shed most of our possessions. Of course, I’ll never stop collecting tacky fabrics, but those are kept at the studio.

What is your karaoke song?

Karaoke is not part of my vocabulary.

What’s the last artwork you purchased?

A photograph by the Canadian artist Paul Butler.

What’s the first artwork you ever sold?

An untitled painting, which, in retrospect, I realize was an early iteration of what evolved into my use of tools, instead of brushes, for mark-making.

What’s your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?

Low-key places: Westville, in Chelsea; An Choi on the Lower East Side.

Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?

Many Friday evenings I go to the Met to draw, mostly in the Greek and Roman galleries.

What’s the last great book you read?

“Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides.

What work of art do you wish you owned?

Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke, 1965, in the Tate Gallery.

What would you do to get it?

Tattoo it on my forearm.

What international art destination do you most want to visit?


What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?

Michael Dopp, a Los Angeles–based abstract painter whose work I saw in Miami.

Who’s your favorite living artist?

Changes all the time, but right now Carmen Herrera.

What are your hobbies?

“Supper Clubbing” with friends. We drive out to the suburbs — Long Island, northern New Jersey — to eat at off-the-beaten-path restaurants.

To see images, click on the slideshow.