Interview: Julia deVille
“I don’t really look outward for inspiration – I have enough that comes from within."
- Julia deVille
It’s been a long 10-months for Julia deVille. Makers meets her after a few false starts, earlier arrangements derailed by a week-long illness arriving as the result of exhaustion: the artist has spent the better part of a year working 12- to 13-hour days in order to keep up with a demanding schedule as her star continues to rise.
Certainly it appears that the woman whose inspiration rises from Victorian-era ideals of life, death and nature – art works realised through her dual passions of taxidermy and jewellery – has created a rich niche for herself in an art world enamoured of her confronting visions.
And they are confronting. Having opened the door to her Collingwood warehouse studio, Julia leads us through the diaspora of beauty and death that is her working space: look to the right and take in her striking rings and necklaces replete with Gothic motifs; look to the left and your gaze may fall upon three taxidermied puppies curled up on porcelain salad plates.
That Julia sees no philosophical clash between her animal loving, vegan nature and her taxidermied works speaks clearly to the artist’s unique view of the world.
Julia: “My grandmother gave me her fox fur stole when I was five or six, one of those styles with the head and you would wrap it and hold the tail in its mouth. I loved it. I used to dress up in it and I felt like it was still alive because it had all its features. So as soon as I worked out taxidermy was something you could do, I wanted to learn how to do it. And then I’ve always just been a massive animal lover – I became a vegetarian when I was nine and I’m now vegan – so, for me, taxidermy was a way of celebrating animals and being around them when you are growing up in a city. As a child I was always interested in death, so for me it seems entirely normal and not at all macabre.”
These words are spoken as she sits, surrounded by vases of dead roses dried to preserve their skeletal beauty, the glint of her Victorian-era inspired silver rings catching the light.
She acknowledges that, initially at least, her work was often viewed through a lens of shock. Like the mouse brooch created from a taxidermied rodent whose eyes were replaced with diamonds and its tail a cord of silver – for Julia the ideal marriage as she undertook both a jewellery design course and a mentorship working alongside a retired Melbourne taxidermist.
Julia: “When I first started blending taxidermy and jewellery it was considered plain crazy, but then I’ve always been a bit different. Since then a lot more people have started to work in taxidermy and a lot of big art collectors are collecting it so it means I get to now do what I love and live off it.”
Certainly it is recognised among the Melbourne arts community that Julia is one of the more successful contemporary artists operating within a city teeming with talented creatives: a recent installation found its showing as part of the NGV’s Melbourne Now exhibition extended, while her current showing as part of the Adelaide Biennial, PHANTASMAGORIA, has generated critical acclaim. Not that the idea of acclaim appears to influence her degree of commitment.
Julia: “Recognition is not the driving force for me. The driving force is the creative process and the problem solving and making something that you really love. Anything else that comes is just a bonus.”
And the “bonuses” keep on coming: though confessing to “lone wolf” status (“I prefer my own company”) the artist now works alongside three assistants required to help her meet demand on a jewellery business that now spans the globe: along with growing demand in Australia and New Zealand, Julia’s pieces have found resonance as far away as Texas, Russia and Romania.
There is a rare, upcoming collaboration with painter and tattooist Leslie Rice (twice winner of the Doug Moran Portrait prize) for a joint show at Sophie Gannon Gallery scheduled for September, not to mention a still-born foal stored in one of her many freezers that will take centre stage for an installation planned for exhibit in 2015.
Of course, for Julia, it all comes back to following her passions, however dark they may seem to a world looking through the eccentric prism of her gaze.
Julia: “I would still be doing it as a hobby even if I couldn’t sell it. It’s always just been for the love of it.”