In a leafy Northern beaches studio, amongst bold, highly stylised paintings of Australian flora and coast scapes, hangs artworks depicting the unassuming, the everyday and the utilitarian. Toasters, pineapples & blenders are equally treated as audaciously as icons of natural Australia.
“Fearless!” I thought to myself, as I walked into the positively alive studio space of Sydney based stencil artist Julie Hickson of pod & pod.
Julie’s work fills the walls top to bottom of the converted guesthouse she now uses as her work space. Here she produces her stunning stencil paintings and regularly has an open studio as part of the Pittwater Artist Trail. (The next open studio is 5-6th March 2016.)
Julie grew up in Sydney’s inner west with a mum who painted botanical images onto china and a grand father who was a painter and decorator. Music played a huge part of her life growing up and it still is a great inspiration for her. She calls music “audible painting” and says that “sounds are a bit like colour”. “It is the language of my brain” she adds.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Julie at Kirribilli Art & Design Market last year and thankfully she agreed to be interviewed for my blog series. Not only do I find her work mesmerising but as a creative, business woman with a family and household to run myself, I set out to discover why Julie so boldly pursues the everyday in her work. And in the end I found out so much more about bravery, strength of character and life outlook.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do?
Probably the bravest thing I’ve done is take the leap from my old job in TV production to going full-time with pod & pod. You have to believe that it will be worth it in the long run even if there are many knock backs along the way. It really helps to have the support of your darling family and friends when you’re being brave and venturing out on an artistic limb! - but ultimately it is a very solo pursuit and you have to stay true to your thang.
Having a background in TV production was good grounding for being brave. You learn to never take no for an answer. There was a time working for MTV UK when a venue manager in Germany drew a gun on me after the show in a dispute over the money owed, and I spent 30 days on the road with Yothu Yindi and Slim Dusty in the Northern Territory shooting live concerts with a crew of 60 men and 2 women - working over 12 hour days and sleeping under the stars most nights. I don't know if it made me tough - but it was a grand adventure I’ll never forget.
What is it about stenciling that drew you & continues to inspire you to work using this technique?
When I first saw an artwork that used a stencil - I thought it was a hand coloured woodcut. I love the dynamic of lino block and woodcuts - but with stenciling - its not hand-colouring after the black has been added - its actually creating the image out of colour over a black background. I know this sounds confusing - but it's this technique - which I’ve spent years experimenting with now - that gives everything such a graphic energy. It's a very addictive process - you can paint quite loosely through your stencil and then peel back to reveal the result. You always want to do another one!
What inspires your aesthetic & why?
I think what I really love is ‘colour’ but coming a close second is ‘line’. I love drawing my designs - starting with a photograph and then drawing out the details in the lines of the flower or leaf or tree. What happens is that you are making the reality onto a stylised form - which is some of the way towards abstracting it.
Who inspires you the most & why?
I think I am inspired by everything and everyone. Shadows, the way light falls on things, the act of isolating an object and going closer with a macro lens - is always interesting as it feels like you are unraveling some of the mystery of what makes it. As an artist it's always inspiring to be around creative people who see the world in a certain way - and that includes musicians and filmmakers, etc. Making the perfect coffee or an astute observation can be the most creative act.
I do love Australian artists - from Fred Williams, Margaret’s Preston and Olley both, John Olsen, Whiteley, Coburn, Kathryn Del Barton - the list goes on and on. A visit to the art gallery or the Biennale is always inspiring.
Being a self-employed creative/artist can seem idyllic from the outside. What’s the hardest part of your job? And how do you over come it?
I think the hardest part of being a female artist is also wanting also to be a part of the life of your family and home. It’s no surprise that really successful artists have achieved their success by being single-minded and living for their art. Keeping a family fed, schooled and clothed and being a creative is a real challenge and requires multi-tasking to the max! Anything that makes you lose focus of your art will slow your creativity down. Great discipline is required - often women produce work reflecting the things around them like still life and the people they love as a way of combining their home life and creative life in one.
What is your proudest career achievement?
I’m still so amazed that after about 10 years this has been my full-time pursuit and I can actually make a living doing it. This wouldn’t be possible without my lovely shops having my greeting cards and going to markets with my archival prints that have been a huge success. I’m really thrilled that my cards went to every Berkelouw store in 2015 - because that’s a little bit of my artwork going out to a greater part of Sydney.
What is the state of the creative community in Sydney & Australia right now? Has it changed much from say 10-15 years ago?
I think every year there is more value placed on handmade and Australian made. I love that what were traditionally women’s craft techniques have been elevated as this movement has evolved - and have become popular with men too. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without doing the hard slog of going to artisan markets and meeting and talking with people about what they love and having feedback about my work. I think Melbourne is way ahead of Sydney - and it’s always been that way but there are hubs here if you’re willing to look for them.
What’s new & on the horizon for pod & pod? What are you looking forward to in 2016? And beyond?
2016 is a year for consolidating everything up to now and really putting in some hours on the heart of it all - the painting. I have some more daytime hours available to me this year with my daughter at high school - so it gives me the luxury of really focusing on where I’m taking this.
What are you reading / listening to right now? Can you recommend any good books, music or exhibitions?
The last fiction I read was David Mitchell’s ‘The Bone Clocks’ that is an incredible fantasy deep-set in reality. I love books that make you suspend your notion of ‘reality’ - I have no problem doing that at all! At the moment I’m reading Kim Gordon’s biography ‘Girl in a Band’ (Kim is the female bass/guitarist in New York band Sonic Youth) which is a kind of back stage heaven for a fan like me.
Musically at the moment - after a glut of all the old David Bowie since his sad demise - I’m still playing the recently released ‘Black Star’ - which is such a dense and resonant record - very special.
Meet Julie in person in her beautiful studio on Sat 5th- Sun 6th March 2016 at Pittwater Artist Trail (click here for more details)
You can find Julie's work at her website www.podandpod.com.au
As mentioned, Berkelouw book stores stock pod & pod cards across sydney. You can also find out more about these & other store locations around Australia by clicking here.
Julie will also be exhibiting her work at the Newport Easter Arts Festival from Friday March 25th to Monday March 28th, 2016
A huge Thank You to Julie Hickson pod & pod for her time & hospitality in being part of this interview series!
* These images are courtesy of Julie Hickson