We will take any excuse to spend an afternoon in the wonderland that is Julie Wolfe’s home. Between the vintage Paramount movie props and the pieces from her Grandmother’s art collection, Wolfe’s art peeks out tantalizingly from the corners. In one room, her new series of rorschach pieces is laid out, in another, the table is covered with photos of eyes.
The last time we caught up with Wolfe, she was in the middle of her Katzen exhibition and those themes of patterns and communication are still very much alive in her current work. Jumping back and forth between the past and the present, we talked about her recently published work, her travel plans and her feelings about her jewelry versus her art over a bowl of perfectly ripe summer cherries. It was the best possible way to spend the day.
Julie Wolfe’s next exhibition Under Their Gaze, We Become Creatures will open at Hemphill Fine Arts September 14 – November 16.
Your work has gotten a little more abstract. Why the change?
It has a little more depth of thought and maybe a little more subconscious thinking… Looking at alternative ideas that you can’t really draw realistically. Also, there’s a lot of association with representational things, I’ll use photographic pieces that I paint on top of.
This is a new series using rorschach with larger pigment prints with paint on top.
What draws you to the rorschach?
You know, I love the whole idea of psychoanalysis. I’m always gathering different views, different perspectives and how they work together. This is kind of based on that, but I think it’s such a time of moral confusion, where everyone is trying to figure things out, “Where do I stand? What am I thinking?” Always thinking, always analyzing. It’s really interesting to see how people interpret this. Some people are afraid to say, they don’t know or they’re unsure, so the response to it is really interesting. Not many people have seen these new paintings, but it’s really interesting how people immediately start to look for things in it.
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It has the cultural significance where you want to find something in the picture.
Yeah, exactly, it sort of becomes an interactive thing. There’s so much that can come out of it. It could even become some sort of performance piece.
What else are you working on right now?
I have about 25 to 35 photos of eyes, and these are all women who are of different ages, completely different ethnic backgrounds, geographic locations and a lot of them are creative, whether they’re writers or artists. I have a daughter in high school and she has this incredibly diverse, interesting group of friends. I love her friends. So some of them are their eyes. What I’m doing is staining these with mostly natural pigments and then they go on the wall as a grid. It’s really fun to look at them all at the same time. You can see how different they are from one another and it becomes an identity thing.
You get such a sense of character looking at an individual eye.
It’s true! I keep seeing things that say the only way to read someone’s emotions authentically is through their expressions. You see some sadness, scared, joyful.
I took all the photos I had because I wanted to make a book. I was under pressure to do it, so I just did a collection of what I had at the time. There are 25 in here. I work with Printed Matter in New York and they’re taking books to the book fair in LA.
What drew you to the eyes?
A lot of things. I’ve always been interested in that. It’s the window to the soul, into what people are thinking and how people perceive things differently. Also, I love anything in surrealism.
Since the Katzen show, I’ve done a lot of books. It’s hard to exhibit books, but I think it’s been a good way to have my work in collections, in museum collections and that sort of thing. It’s more accessible and I love the idea of using these books as your own experience. More people can have them, you can hold it and refer to it, I think the accessibility is a big one.
And the book and the zine are such an original way of getting the word out and protesting. I haven’t really done protest pieces per se, but they’re definitely politically charged in some way. I love that idea.
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Your art process involves a lot of traveling. Do you have any big trips planned this year?
I just got back from Paris. I’m working with a gallery there now and it’s really fun. I found out that the dealer, the owner, has an apartment where her artists can stay. So I’m taking full advantage of that. She has a gallery space that’s beautiful and they have a really great online presence too.
I went to Mexico City in the fall with my husband, and we’ll probably go back. That’s a place that’s so huge, it takes a long time to really understand that. It’s just so interesting, the people are so nice, the food is so great. It’s like a business / pleasure thing.
Other than that, I kind of want to keep things open because stuff always pops up. I’m sure that’s how it is with you and a lot of people, you keep a few days open because something is going to pop up.
You never know what’s going to happen.
But it’s exciting!
Wouldn’t you rather have a varied schedule that changes day to day?
Yes. Seriously. With the work you do, can you make your own schedule?
A little bit. Everyday I’m writing about something different.
I’m a horrible writer and I’m dyslexic too, but I love to visit artist’s studios. I started working with The Studio Visit, it’s a non-profit and a very small online art journal. It’s mostly visiting local artists studios, but we also do international. We’re mostly focusing on women of color right now. Like you, I love being able to understand how these people operate.
That’s funny. I’m interviewing you about a subject you interview a lot of other people about.
What do you ask these artists? What are you interested in?
I’m always really interested in what makes them tick, what they’re inspired by, and as an artist, and I know other people always ask me this, what’s your day like? Describe your practice in general.
I like to hear about major things in the past, but what they would like to do going forward. I’ve found with most of the artists they go off talking about their work. I let them do that.
I just interviewed a girl last week that’s at Halcyon. I taught at that same building when it was the Corcoran, in the metalsmith studio. I think they had wood shop, but they also had this jewelry studio that was amazing. We lived over there when we first moved out here, so I just started working there as a lab technician then I started teaching. I think it was considered continuing education, but we still had undergrad students.
I like to find out what they know about the art community. I don’t always get out that often and I feel like it’s important… You get to a certain point in your career and I feel like I want to give back.
Is there advice you tend to give younger artists? Or something you wish you knew when you started?
How best to present your work to get better recognition. A lot of times when it’s someone who just moved here, they ask how to get more involved with WPA and Transformer and things to apply for. I think residencies are really important, in other cities and countries if you can. There’s certain residencies that I know of that I think are really great experiences. I’ll share that.
It’s like a brain trust of information.
That’s the whole point. There’s so much talent here it’s crazy. I also want these talented artists to get recognized. Most artists I know are really into helping other artists. It’s important to have a community because you spend a lot of time by yourself in your studio.
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Since we’re on the subject, what’s the one thing you would change about the D.C. art community?
It’s kind of nebulous, but more unity and some type of singular way to connect. A lot of people are working on ways to connect, and STABLE is a great example, but one touchstone that every artist in D.C. belongs to and checks in on. I don’t know what that would be… I think a good example was when the Museum of Women In the Arts did that photograph of all the women artists in D.C. I couldn’t believe the number of people. There were so many people it took a while to see someone I knew.
Why are you still in D.C.?
This is an ongoing conversation for some obvious reasons. We moved out here because I was in New York quite a bit and it was easier to be here, my husband’s work was out here. We like our house here and we’ve moved a lot. It’s nice to be here. It’s a good hub, but I maybe want to travel more and spend more time in other countries.
What’s the dream? Where do you want to go?
I’d like to spend more time in Central and Southeast Asia, but you name it and I’m open. There’s still a lot of places I’ve never been. My husband travels quite a bit to really interesting places, so that would be a dream, but to maintain my career too. Whatever I do, that’s really important.
Do you think you create differently when you’re in new locations?
I don’t create as well because it’s distracting to me. It’s the sort of thing that manifests itself later on and comes out, but when I’m there, I’m so busy looking and absorbing everything. I’ve historically not done very good work, if any.
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Are you still making jewelry?
That’s my other job. I’ve been with Barney’s New York for 22 years, maybe more. I can’t believe it’s been that long. Over the years it morphed into different things. It started off with jewelry and accessories and then I went into men’s jewelry and then fine jewelry. It used to be much more experimental, we could do anything. We would try stuff out… I’d go to the flea market and get a bunch of old patches and sew beads on them and they’d put them in a snazzy case. It was crazy. It’s changed over the years and changed back. I’ve just ridden the rollercoaster and they’ve always been good to me. It’s not a huge money maker, but I can’t stop now. I work with them and several stores.
I’m making a lot of jewelry too, mostly with precious metals and stones, but it’s all one of a kind. I’m not mass producing. Sometimes I have people in New York help me with certain things, like my casters in New York and people who will set a certain type of stone.
Do you consider that apart of your creative process? Or is it something separate?
My art is so much more intellectually stimulating to me. Whatever I’m doing in my art, I try to project that onto my jewelry so my jewelry is more meaningful to me and other people. With what I’m doing, I can only take that so far with my jewelry.
The biggest downfall, it shouldn’t be a downfall, but it exists, is I think it confuses people sometimes. I don’t think anyone would admit it, but [people think] “She’s a jewelry designer and jewelry is decorative and beautiful so her art is going to be that way.” In several reviews there’s been some comment about that… and sometimes derogatory. Calder made jewelry. More and more you’re seeing this merge of fashion and art, and politically, using fashion designers to make political statements like Helmut Lang.
People like Tim Doud, he’s like, “Just embrace it! You’re a jewelry designer and you’re an artist, if they come together, show them together. It is what it is.” It’s just funny.