“I love old objects,” says mixed media artist Julie Begen. “I have collections of all sorts of things but they’re always worn, marked, incomplete. I like to see traces of the past, the patina, hints of past dinners in the crazing on a plate, the shadow of a tea stain on a tray cloth.”
I encountered Julie’s work on Totterdown Front Room Art Trail 2015, and was simultaneously intrigued and unnerved by her displays of doll parts, drawings and sculptures.
“Much of my work is to do with traces of memory,” she explains. “There is often a memorial aspect…and a healing I think. The dolls are all part of this.”
This particular collection began with a spot of beachcombing. “I like to beach comb for human detritus and have a large collection of china shards,” she says. “I started finding bits of china dolls amongst the pebbles on beaches. Miniature sculptural pieces loved, held, then lost.”
It’s such an intriguing idea – how did these adored specimens end up at the mercy of the tides, before becoming part of the shores flotsam?
Julie herself was never a particularly ‘dolly’ child, “but I really understand the need for an object of comfort and of attachment to an object or toy. The project really took me back in time. Like most of my work it made me sense memories that I thought I had lost. I know my work can do that for others too.”
Julie explains that she deliberately works with objects “that trigger that sense of knowing but not really remembering. I have referred to this in the past as ‘layers of the familiar’, more felt than recalled. A sense. A scent… The back of your mum’s dressing table drawer…”
It’s enough to send a shiver up your spine. Other pieces include intricate botanical drawings captured in brooches and rings.
“My artworks prompt individual personal memories and the stories that go with them. Once exhibited this then leads on to the memories and stories that the viewers then share with me.”
Julie regards her works as a collection rather than individual pieces, “although each piece can and does stand alone. An important part of my work are the written supporting texts which explore areas of my past, revisiting, questioning and helping me question my exploration and put it into context.”
But what kinds of things prompt these journeys?
“Projects find me – I don’t look for them. I will find myself drawn toward an object or a phrase and over time the meanings come together. It is all in my subconscious and over time I’ve learned to trust and go with it until it comes to the fore. There will be an itch to scratch.”
A single explorative journey can take about a year.
“All projects are connected but I find this works for me, keeps me moving forward and provides me with a new body of work to exhibit each year. I find that a time frame works for me. It keeps me focused.”
She adds, intriguingly: “I can’t imagine not making work. It keeps me complete. There are times when life takes over and there isn’t much time but I’m always wanting to get on. It’s frustrating, like a piece of me missing.”
To ensure she’s always able to keep moving forward with a project, Julie keeps sketchbooks and has “archives of related images so I and always able to get on with something.”
As well as showing her work at Totterdown Front Room Art Trail and Easton Arts Trail, where she has the same space every year, “thanks to St Marks Baptist Church”, Julie takes part in other West Country trails. “I was also delighted to be asked to take part in Ilfracombe’s first Art Trail.”
For Julie, art has always been part of her means of making sense of the world. “I have always drawn, since I was a child. It has seemed as natural a language to me as learning to speak, a part of my life that I cannot imagine being without. It is who I am. It is how I think. It is just what I do.”
Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.