I was invited to spend a few days with Julian at his studio in the countryside near London, where I helped him weld a commissioned piece of work and prepare his Origin Vertical sculpture for restoration. I asked him a few questions about his work, his choice of materials and his practice from the perspective of an aspiring artist:
1. What has been the greatest influence on you?
The teachers on my Foundation course were really influential and got me into sculpture.
2. Why do you choose to use colour in your work?
I have always been interested in the relationship between colour and form. I usually think of the colour first before creating the shape and sometimes contrast colours or create an ombre effect. I have always been interested in intense bright colours- particularly warm colours such as yellow, red, purple and orange. My work plays with different colour connotations as well as associations we have about colour being vital and representative of life and being alive.
3. Do you keep any of your own work?
I don’t keep any sculpture for reference. I am able to go and visit most of my work anyway, if I ever need or want to look at it again. Once the piece is gone, I am able to move to the next, and start the process over again.
4. A lot of your works are constructed out of metal and wood, why do you choose to use these materials?
A lot of the time the material I use is determined by where the piece is going. I try to keep my options open and make things that look good both indoors and outdoors. But I’ve worked with metal since college, and I like how it can be manipulated. You can make metal work like clay. You can make something in clay and then cast it or you can forge it and manipulate the metal in that way. I look at gravity and I like how metal can be welded and frozen into an immediate position.
5. Have you ever physically carved into wood?
Yes, but I tend to use machines when working with wood. The wooden piece I showed you in my studio was done as part of a residency, where a robot carved it.
6. Why do you choose to collaborate?
Collaborating with other specialists is a good way for you to get a better understanding of your practice and it teaches you to make quick judgements about your work, as every little decision influences the aesthetics of the piece. However, I don’t make any work that’s larger than 5 meters. Once it gets bigger than that, I get a manufacturer to make the form for me.
7. How did you make your work viable to commercial galleries and exhibitions?
It’s difficult when you start out as an artist because it’s hard to make a living. Especially with sculpture, which can be expensive to make. I made my work viable by making it on a large scale so that it could be placed outside. I am fortunate because I make objects, so it’s a bit easier to sell than installation pieces. Bigger pieces are harder to sell than smaller ones, but not impossible.
8. In your opinions what’s the best/most interesting commission you have undertaken?
Origin, for the University of Oxford. It was exciting, because I got to work on a really big scale. It was one of the rare times where I was doing a commission that advanced my practice. It changed what I was doing and the work that I was creating. It was hard work but was an amazing opportunity.
9. How do you approach residencies and what do they require you to do?
I did a residency in Ireland which was quite relaxed, where I sent images of my work and said what I wanted to do, which is the best type of residency. But equally, I did another residency at Winchester School where I was invited rather than had to apply for, and for that one I was expected to do extra stuff such as teaching. I’ve applied to one recently, in America, which I heard about through the grapevine.
10. How important are the names for your works? Do you give them names in order to provide the viewer with clues as to what the piece is?
The title gives the viewer clues, yes, and can complement the work. I think titles are really interesting. I used to number the works but now I give then suggestive names.
The piece that you were working on is called Origin Vertical, it’s to do with Genesis: the start of an idea.
11. Why do you choose to live and work in the countryside as opposed to the city?
Internet means that you could be anywhere in the world and people would still be able to see your work. I like being in the country because it allows me to have a large studio. I also think that people enjoy travelling down from London to see sculptures.
12. Have any of your public sculptures ever been purposefully damaged or stolen, and how did you react in that situation?
Some works have a guarantee. The Oxford piece has a guarantee of 15 years. But most of the time, once the work is bought it’s up to the owner to look after it. The Oxford one was graffitied, but we were able to remove the spray paint without damaging the surface underneath.
One of my public sculptures- a small bronze piece, was stolen. But because it was insured I was able to get back the money. There is always a chance of someone defacing your work, but you can’t allow that to stop you from producing it.
13. What advice would you give me as an aspiring artist?
Picture yourself as a container ship, a tanker that can turn but takes a long time. Stick to your guns and keep moving ahead with what you’re interested in. There is nothing wrong with being practical and there is nothing wrong with trying to make a living from what you do. You need to find a balance. There is always a way of making a living doing what you do as there is someone out there that wants it. Make your own luck. What’s important is that you position yourself so that people get to see your work, but you’re not pushing it on them. It’s a slow game.
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