ICON, a solo exhibition featuring the work of Julianne French, is on display at the Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) Deerwood Center until February 24, 2017. French, who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Jacksonville University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York Academy of Art, has been an educator in the Nassau County School District since 2006. In 2007 French became a Teacher of the Gifted, teaching arts and humanities to students in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12, and in 2013 she was awarded the Memphis Wood Excellence in Teaching Award.
French's CV lists an impressive number of solo and group exhibitions, including several international exhibits. In 2016 French exhibited internationally in South Korea and the United Kingdom. In the last five years French has exhibited in New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Savannah, GA; Washington, DC; Tampa, FL, and Jacksonville. Her work is exhibited in the University Medical Center Hospital (New Orleans, LA), the Siena Art Institute (Siena, Italy), and the Community First Credit Union Headquarters (Jacksonville, FL), just to name a few.
It is not by luck that French has been granted the opportunities that she has. As an artist she exhibits a work ethic that mirrors how Henry Miller approached writing, "Work according to Program and not according to mood." Furthermore, French is diligent about scouring the internet for opportunities appropriate for her artistic discipline and body of work. Her impressive CV is a direct result of her dedication to her process.
10 Questions with Julianne French
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when you start a new project?
I work in series. Usually each series dictates a different approach to the art making process, but how I start a new series is generally the same process. Once I have ideas for a new body of work, I first make sketches of my ideas considering composition, size, and media. After I have some solid compositions, I then work to find inspiration and resources to work from.
These resources will vary depending on the type of series. For my RUIN series, I took personal photographs of specific architecture in the US and Europe that I found compelling for the purpose of incorporating them into a work of art. For my Apparitions series, I found Victorian photographs from vintage stores and also rummaged through my family's old photo albums. For the portrait series on Plexiglas, I asked models to pose for me and took my own photographs of them.
After I find my visual sources, I manipulate those images in Photoshop, either changing coloration, or cropping. My next decision is to consider size and how large to go within the series. Sometimes I know exactly what size I want to work with, other times it is a trial and error process of creating the works and seeing what the work physically demands as well as what looks best as a final product. Some series work better small, others more large.
What have you learned about yourself through your career in the arts?
I've learned to be more patient with myself. Art is long and life is short. I cannot create everything I would like, and that is okay.
How do you define success in what you do?
The most relevant aspect of success, I suppose, is the connection to a viewer. The idea of creating something that comes from within myself and for it to have a positive meaning to another person is incredibly important. Is there even one person who is drawn into my work, that considers it, that may enjoy it, or evaluate it? If the answer is yes, even for one sole individual, then I think that I can find some contentment in knowing that my work is not totally in vain.
I believe connecting to others is the highest form of success in means of making my artwork. Exhibitions, awards, honors, are all nice and flattering, but to truly make any impact or connection to one of my viewers, whether I know it or not, is what I am after.
What is the origin of your current body of work and is it a continuation of or departure from previous bodies of work?
My current work centers around architecture. It includes drawn and painted images that incorporate architecture, from representational to abstracted forms. I am grateful to the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. They saw a purpose in this series and awarded me an Art Ventures grant to continue the work.
This series originated from my interest in traveling and architecture. I am drawn to the intricate designs and history that past architecture holds. I did not grow up around magnificent structures, like the ones I portray in my works, and maybe that is why I am also drawn to them - they are foreign and there is a sense of mystery to them. I am also fascinated by the idea of time and history and how the two develop as a narrative with old architecture, especially structures that are centuries old. It is daunting to think of the histories that have taken place and perhaps even shaped the dwelling over the years.
This series, which I call RUIN, stands alone from my other series. Past series include portraits on plexiglas, also made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation. As well as a series in which I worked with Victorian age photography with mixed media, again another connection to time and history.
If there is a connection between RUIN and my previous work it is the continuation of history and time as a central theme.
What do you feel are some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a working artist living outside of a major metropolitan area?
The first advantage that comes to mind is cost. It is much less expensive to live in Jacksonville than it is to live in NYC, I know from experience. I also find that it is more peaceful here in Jacksonville and nature abounds! The city life that comes with living in larger metropolitan areas is great, but I like to know that the beach is five minutes down the road even if I never go there.
Disadvantages in a smaller city include having fewer cultural institutions, museums, and galleries. There are also fewer diverse opportunities for artists, from shows to residencies and grants.
Don't get me wrong, Jacksonville has some amazing museums and galleries and institutions. There is a strong art presence here in Jacksonville and it is blooming and thriving. It's an exciting time to be an artist.
What is your relationship with time when working on a project or piece and how do you continue momentum when working on projects that extend over a long duration of time?
When I first start a series, I usually begin slowly - only creating one or two works. Once I feel that it is interesting enough to captivate my attention and to further investigate and experiment with, I will then devote a large amount of time to it, usually blocking out several months for preliminary work. Fine tuning images is also a slower process and takes time. Again, this process occurs over months at a time because I may think something is finished and then later determine it is not, and vice versa.
If I am creating work for a specific show, I create a plan as to how many works I need and the deadlines by which I need them. At first, it was very challenging trying to work and be inspired with an upcoming deadline. I felt I could not be as fruitful in my process when under such pressure. But, after working on two larger shows under this stress, I managed to utilize my spare time by creating my own deadlines and this certainly is very helpful to keep on track.
What really helped was learning how to work in the studio even if I had no motivation that day or if a piece I was working on was going nowhere. It allowed me to continue my process, stay active, and also work simultaneous on alternate projects. What was important was that I was in the studio. I think this is a big reason why I work on different projects/series, to stay active, interested and to never get tired or bored with a subject.
Your sister, Evelyn, is an award winning photographer and graphic designer. Your brother, Joe, attended New York University's prestigious Tisch School of Arts in film and television studies. How has your family's creative dynamics influenced, motivated, or impacted your artistic endeavors?
My family has always been supportive of my making art. It was always encouraged for me to continue art, even if that meant a possibly less lucrative financial career. When I was younger I may not have realized how important it was for my parents and siblings to understand my making art. Now that I am older I am grateful and also impressed that they did encourage me.
I've met a lot of talented people over the years and many never followed their artistic career, maybe because of the fear of not making a lot of money. I am glad that I did not let the financial part distract me. Although I have student debt and I am also an educator, I have the luxury to make art, and art that I truly want to make, since I do not have to rely solely on it to feed myself.
Growing up with creative siblings is awesome. As children we would make plays and movies together. We've helped each other out with our works by giving advice and inspiration. I would go on photo shoots with my sister, I have created storyboards for my brother's film, and I have even illustrated one of his books. So it has been rewarding having artistic siblings to work with.
You have worked as an educator in Nassau County and previously received the Memphis Wood Excellence in Teaching Award. What did it mean to you to receive that award? Additionally, why do you think it is important to advocate for the arts in education?
Receiving the Memphis Wood award was an honor. It illustrated the hard work I had done with my students to create a fun, meaningful learning environment for them. I teach hands-on art lessons interwoven through literature and history. I have even taken them abroad to Europe to see magnificent works of art in person.
I am grateful to MOCA for having programs that acknowledge and benefit arts education. I find it critical to advocate for the arts in education. More and more, the arts are being eliminated in public education and continuing to be viewed less valuable as a taught subject. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) over STEM is my view, but many who influence education sadly disagree.
When art is removed from the curriculum, I find students not knowing how to look at a work of art or to critically decipher it. It is no longer seen as a tool for problem solving and creating analytical thinkers. I think art has such power in the classroom. It teaches students how to analyze and look at the world around them. Art is such an ingrained part of our humanity. Learning to appreciate art, and even creating art, enriches our lives.
You have exhibited your work in solo and group shows outside of Jacksonville and Florida, including several international shows. How do you find exhibition opportunities and what do you feel you have gained by exhibiting your work outside of the local market?
Certainly having a large body of work to distribute to various shows is helpful. I am eager to show my artwork and get it out there so that others can enjoy it and gain something from it. I hate the idea of creating something, devoting much time to it, and then putting it away in a closet.
When I see other artists exhibit I get inspired. I hope that my art has some quality of that for someone out there, too. I use the internet and visit websites to find shows, whether locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally. If my artwork fits then I apply. I applied for so many shows when I first started exhibiting and then realized why I was not being accepted. I started tailoring my searches to what my specific art series is about and I have found much luck in gaining exhibitions in museums, colleges, and small galleries.
I am now at the point where people and agencies contact me to show with them, so that is an exciting aspect and something for artists to keep in mind. If you do the work and make the effort then eventually it will lead you to the right people and new opportunities will develop. I have been very blessed with many wonderful people outside of Jacksonville finding my work and appreciating it. International shows are very exciting, but they also present logistical challenges, such as shipping the work.
What was the last piece of work you witnessed from an artist other than yourself that created an emotional reaction within you?
Christina Cordova is a contemporary figurative sculptor whose works are beautiful and strangely eerie. Her works are amazing, life size or larger, and are intricately detailed. I consider myself a figurative artist at heart so her body of work resonates deeply with me.
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