Julian Simon: It’s Not What It Looks Like

Julian Simon

Artwork’s Title: It’s not what it looks like

Material Used: Oil on canvas

Studio Based: Berlin

Julian Simon, „Its not what it looks like“, 80 x 100 cm, oil on canvas, 2021

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

In my work I try to access feelings of solitude in connection to other humans or events happening around me I am usually intrigued by certain situations that leave the viewer (including myself) in a sort of state, that makes you wonder where the images and situations come from. If I can tell exactly what is going on within the given situation, I tend to lose interest since the tension or free interpretation is the most important for me. Looking back at my older work, it is more descriptive of my actual life, rather than the situations I try to create now. Currently I’m combining little sculptures to fit the feelings I had in particular moments where references are established. I work a lot with wordplays and try to make the viewer question the meaning even if sometimes there is none. I usually start with a reference and change it to my will in terms of color and composition and then add sculptures to enhance the feeling given in the work. For me its important not to use photoshop or any digital route in my work because I feel if I do this work in my head, a lot of unexpected things that are vital for the work happen within the canvas.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Hard to define.

Could you share with us some insights on your recent work ‘It’s not what it looks like’ (2021)? Is there any particular story behind this new painting?

This painting came out of a thought or situation that I have had multiple times, where I’ve seen men and woman interacting in ways that could be read in different directions. For example I was confronted with this is when I was out in club and a man and woman were arguing heavily, to the point where I (and also some other visitors) felt the need to step in to ask if everything was all right because the woman seemed to be in a helpless situation and overwhelmed by the guy. It turned out to be a couple and I was all of the sudden the bad guy, being insulted by them both for simply asking if things were ok. This made me feel strange since I thought I had done the right thing, even though I was interpreting the complete opposite of what was actually happening. So in this painting I see myself as the guard-dog who is noticing a situation that could be read in different ways but doesn`t know what to do. I have gotten so many mixed emotions about this painting, ranging from „ awww so sweet“ to „ it’s obviously a sexual predator taking advantage of someone“. It is exactly this freedom of interpretation I look for in my works; keeping an open thought open.

In your imagery, either it’s more figurative or more abstract; there is a very detailed study on shadows and light. More particularly some paintings such as ‘Blue’ or ‘Vacation on the balcony’ almost have photorealistic view; is this art practice that you might be interested in?

The funny thing is that my work used to be a lot more realistic since I come from a quite classical training in figurative work. I have been using references and painting from life ever since I’ve been working in the figurative realm and have been trying to connect the two over time. I love impressionism and photography so I thought about how I can combine the two, because over the last 2 years I was quite bored with realism and tried to find a route in painting that would break into both fields. I have experimented with a lot of video stills and doing serial work in order to get the point across that I am actually either using a reference or not. some things just cant be painted from life. In the painting „its not what it looks like“ I feel it combines the two practices well because I have the element of reference (the figures) which cannot be seen in the way they are distorted with the bare eye, and the dog, which is a tiny sculpture I formed in real life and then painted into the reference.

Do you rather develop your works on smaller or bigger scale canvases?

It’s hard to say. I think whatever feeling I get from what I want to paint, ultimately decides the scale. I do love to work in small scales and often do a little version of a planned painting on paper before I move to canvas. I do this just to figure out if it the elements I combine fit together compositionally and color wise before moving to a canvas. its hard to say though because sometimes I also tend to just start on a big canvas and see where it goes.

How do you decide which canvas type fit your stories?

I always stick to a fine cotton canvas with a priming that has a bit of structure because I work both thick and thin with oil-paint and cant stand if its too smooth, but also hate a rough surface. Lately I’ve been working on unprimed paper a lot just because its a interesting way of layering paint on it.

Which place would it be ideal to exhibit your work?

Having worked in many different spaces like actual white cube galleries to train-stations, I’ve come to the conclusion that anywhere is fine with me. I think if a work is strong enough it can work in any space since a painting should take you out of the real world, no matter where it is hanging. Only criteria for me I guess is a fairly bright space since I work in fine nuances and a lot gets lost if its too dark.

Where do you draw inspiration in order to build up your imagery? Is your only imagery related to personal memories or are you also into more random figures or stories on your canvases?

I tend to draw inspiration from everyday life, the people around me and the situations I’m in. When there are figures on the painting, they usually tend to be friends of mine. As for the situations it varies. Sometime I also bend situations and make them seems as I want to, even though they took place in a different emotion or context that I had originally experienced them in. In 2018 I actually had a solo show called „Overexposure“ at Galerie Chloé Salgado in Paris , which handled this topic only. My surroundings and the environment I was moving in as a sort of chronologist, since this is what the artists I love did in the past.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

It changes from day to day really. At the moment people like Rae Klein, Deng Shiqing, Igor Skaletsky, William Reinsch, Avery Singer and others. I also have the biggest heart for the impressionists like Felix Valloton, Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot but also for the classics like Picasso, Bacon all the way to the old master like Bosch and Holbein. So I like painting as a whole id say and I’m always curious to see how different characters handle the medium.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

I currently have a Studio at Weissensee Kunsthochschule in Berlin and it’s always in a state that is somewhere between chaos and order. I feel in my working place I need to be able to ash on the floor and splatter paint around but to also have my table where I can do paperwork. I tend to not have a lot of works in the studio since it makes me compare myself to myself and not work on new paintings. the ones that I do have there are usually put away or turned around to face the wall- I’d say my studio reflects my personality pretty good; a bit unorganized, a but cozy but standing still.

What do your mum and dad think about your art?

I grew up with my mother and she is probably more proud and excited for me and my work than I am myself. I have the tendency to not care about my paintings once I have finished them but she is probably my biggest fan and biggest critic at once. Especially these past two years she has been really getting into art and I love it because we’ve had difficult times in life. Also due to me choosing art and I feel at some point she was very sacred of me choosing it to be my way because as we all know it can be a slippery slope to be an artist.

Which are your plans for the near future?

Whatever the future holds for me. I ́m definitely looking to spend some time outside of Germany with my partner and I guess just keep working on things. I will definitely keep painting and try to find a even better way of expressing what I want to say with my work. I also do music and would love to get a chance to better myself in that field.

Additional Paintings

Julian Simon, selfportrait – “strange vision”, acrylic on paper, 21 x 29,7 cm, 2021
Julian Simon, sad guy on bed- “I’m ok”, 100 x 120 cm oil on canvas , 2021
Julian Simon, blurry with flower -„It will be ok“, 30 x 30 cm, Oil on canvas, 2020-2021
Julian Simon, shoes-„Bootleg Maison“, 18 x 24 cm, Oil on canvas, 2021
Julian Simon, flower on the field – “Photosynthesis”, 25 x 32 cm, acrylic on paper, 2021


All images courtesy of the artist

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