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Inside Julia Dault’s Bright, Messy-Minimalist Studio

Opening the doors of her West-end studio, the renowned painter tells us she’s “not interested in pursuing the idea of perfection” in her work

By Alexandra Caufin
Photography by Arash Moallemi

Every artist or designer entertains a dialogue with their materials. For some, the conversation remains covert. For Julia Dault, it becomes the art itself. Untitled 39, 9:30-11:50 AM, September 26, 2017 is one of her latest sculptures in which sheets of Formica and Plexiglas are bent to energetic curves, then harnessed with ropes and Everlast boxing wrap. Untitled 1 was her first piece exhibited, the thesis produced in 2008 for her MFA at Parsons School of Design. In 2012, she showed two paintings and a sculpture at the prestigious New Museum Triennial, and soon, the collectors came calling. There are 23 of Dault’s Untitled sculptures currently in existence, several of them in permanent collections like those of The Guggenheim in Manhattan, our own AGO, and the Saatchi Gallery in London. Now, after more than a decade in New York, Dault is back in her native Toronto, where she previously worked as an art critic before breaking out to make work of her own professionally.

Maintaining a strict, rule-based practice for her sculptures, Dault forms each Untitled at the gallery space, not before, adding a time stamp to indicate how long it took to create. This effectively allows Dault to turn a site of exhibition into a site of production. Second rule: nothing is pre-bent; the only tool she can use, other than a drill to anchor the work, is her own body weight. Also, no glue is allowed, “Because you can’t see it. I use knots and cords; it’s all very visible. Then you can look at the label and know exactly how long that struggle happened for.”

This conversation about transparency becomes more literal in her paintings, which captivate with their mysterious compositions. Some take upwards of a year to create, as Dault applies layers of acrylic and oils, then scrapes away the surface to reveal multiple paintings beneath. Using tools like rubber combs and foam fitness rollers, Dault accents the canvas with grids, geometric cutaways and organic flowing lines.

Her latest batch, unveiled at Art Basel Miami Beach, included Electric Circus, 2017, in which neon colours emerge from half-moon cutouts on a black overlay. In Hazy Shade of Winter, 2017, casein paint provides the ghostly white veil through which mustard and charcoal shapes appear.

In 2018, Yorkville will become home to Dault’s first outdoor piece, a three-dimensional ceramic painting on a two-by-three-metre freestanding wall near Yorkville Village. Working with ceramic, Dault confronted new variables like firing times, heat and exposure. No matter: her self-dubbed “dirty minimalism” intentionally puts the emphasis back on the hand of the artist. “I don’t really believe in the ultimate idea of perfection,” she says. It’s the art of the struggle which really makes the work sing.


Categories: Local Act
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