Julie Curtiss’ Surrealistic Twisted Ropes of Hair Investigate the Female Selfhood

Julie Curtiss (b.1982) is an emerging artist whose work beautifully examines the impact of identity, femininity and modern culture. It’s true that for many contemporary artists around the world, the mingling of art and femininity draws high attention. The idea of femininity provides artists with access to a generous visual vocabulary, enabling them to produce creative conceptions that offer a direct aesthetic impact to the viewers’ eyes. It renders yet a novel path to blur the line between the formal stereotypes and to give space to new artistic interpretations around this notion. Alternatively, femininity can be seen simply as fun to play with, rejecting miserable preconceptions of the past.

Julie Curtiss, Her master’s voice, 2017, Acrylic and Oil on canvas, 40″X32″, Courtesy the artist

Curtiss’ painting compositions definitely mirror an alluring sense of feminine identity, showcasing its presence in contemporary art. Although femininity is an idea often over-analysed, Curtiss’ point of view reflects fresh, mysterious and innovative elements. The artist develops a distinctive painting language in which her contribution can be read as a vital response to contemporary interpretations of the female identity.

Julie Curtiss, Another piece of pie, 2017, Acrylic and oil on panel, 24″X36″, Courtesy the artist

Her approach in introducing female figures incorporates an alternative dimension through which her concept of femininity holds manifold examinations conveying further insights. Unlike vulnerable, sentimental and weak attributes, her visual compositions depict more masculine, odd, rugged or even rigorous elements. The latter ones consist important female symbolisms on her canvas capable enough to communicate the idea of an unconventional persona. In this regard, physical strength and forceful attitude involving strong energy can characterise a modern woman today. Definitely, Curtiss’ perspective encapsulates these features along with a very delicate painting technique.

Julie Curtiss, Carapace, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 26″X20″, Courtesy the artist

Driven by an aesthetically grotesque way of thinking, Curtiss’ art easily opens up a conversation on gender politics with a strong emphasis on awakening the female selfhood. Various types of female figures find their voice and deliberately express their character on her canvas. Encompassing surrealistic references, her paintings are converted into a creative medium which brings up a symbolic, as well as a physiological, element in her artistic language. The artist’s visual representations reflect eccentric, bizzare or even freakish female silhouettes confirming a concealed intention for self-expression, irony or pure fun. Her fascination for the motif of twisted ropes of hair is an established trace of her artistry interestingly given by a palette of alluring colours each time. There is also an artistic mixture of contradictions on canvas, inviting various motifs such as masculine -almost beastly- hands, hairy bodies, long painted pointy fingernails, nipples or breasts and always faceless portraits.

Julie Curtiss, Honeymoon, Oil on canvas, 20″X24″, 2017, Courtesy the artist

I first saw Curtiss’ paintings at the Dreamers Awake group exhibition at White Cube London a few months ago aiming to examine “the enduring influence of Surrealism through the work of more than fifty women artists”. Among artworks from prestigious females artists, such as Louise Bourgeois, Mona Hatoum and Dorothea Tanning, Julie Curtiss’ paintings were not only able to grab the visitor’s attention, but also nicely met the exhibition’s surrealistic criteria introducing a new female artist to the art world.

Born in Les Lilas, France, Julie Curtiss lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA from the Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 2006,  while her work has exhibited in many places around the world.

 In her interview with Art Verge, Julie Curtiss shares her approach on art issues and provides some interesting answers about her daily life. Check it out!


Julie Curtiss, Entrée, 2017, Acrylagouache and oil on panel, 18″X24″, Courtesy the artist


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

Julie Curtiss: I get inspiration when I travel on the subway, take a stroll in the city, look at art in the museum. I also play associations of ideas in my head. I then work on several sketches before I get started on canvas or paper.

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

JC: Bulbous, fibrous, ambiguous!

AV: Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

JC: European/french 18-20th-century painters (Dominique Ingres, Picasso, Magritte, Manet, Degas…) Chicago Imagists (Christina Ramberg, Ray Yoshida, Roger Brown), contemporary artists (Nicole Eisenman, Matthew Barney…) stop-motion animation, graphic novels…

AV: Looking at your work, surrealism and female identity characterize the main body of your work. In one of your last major group exhibitions “Dreamers Awake” at White Cube in London, the show illustrates how “through art anchored in corporeality, the symbolic woman of Surrealism is refigured as a creative, sentient, thinking being”. Would it be any additional contribution on this statement be based on your own artistic language?

JC: I would add complex and contradictory.

AV: Creating a new painting is a solitary process. If this applies to you, when you concentrate on a new artwork does it affect your social life at all?

JC: I try to maintain a steady stream of practice, which means I don’t need to seclude myself to access a certain painting mindset. Like everybody, I go through hard times in the studio. But for the most part, I am usually able to ignore my surroundings and get absorbed in what I do. The other way around, I easily put down my brushes and get out to socialize. I need this balance between human connection and being inside my head.

AV: How do you know when a painting is finished?

JC: For me, it’s a gut feeling, when the painting feels tight. Sometimes, the smallest detail can tie everything together.

AV: Which exhibition did you visit last?

JC: The last shows I visited this weekend was Andy Cahill at Safe Gallery in Brooklyn, it’s located a few blocks from my apartment. And a great show of ceramic sculptures by Genesis Belanger at MRS Gallery. This is what I like about living in Brooklyn, the art community is very connected, dynamic and talented. I love relating to artists, curators, small galleries and artist-run spaces, on a level that feels intimate.

AV: What do you hope audiences will take from your work?

JC: I like the idea of acquired taste. I hope audiences will appreciate my work, like a dish that taste unfamiliar at first, but you grow to like. When that happens, it’s like you surprise yourself a little, you get to unveil a part of yourself you didn’t know existed.

AV: What does your mum think about your art?

JC: It’s an interesting question. The sad part is that she passed away before seeing what my art became, the beautiful part is that so much of my art is about her. It’s a way for me to continue a discussion with her, despite her absence.

AV: Is the glass half empty or half full?

JC: I am a half empty glass kind of girl for the little stuff- I can get pretty critical- but when it comes to the big picture, I am definitely more a half full glass person.

AV: Which are your plans for the near future?

JC: The goal right now is working full time on my art. It’s always been THE dream for me. When it becomes a reality, it will be a major step!

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