Julia Betts – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Withdraw Digital photograph  2013

Digital photograph

Briefly describe the work you do.

I investigate the idea of transience and self through choices in material and process as part of an interdisciplinary art practice. Impermanent materials such as masking tape, scotch tape, ground digital images act as surrogate for the body. The materials go through stages of accretion, removal and regeneration through both physical intervention and natural degradation. For example, in “Debris,” layered, rolled, then sawed images of the body create stone-like debris. Through these actions, I relate myself to geological processes of erosion and sedimentation. In a related piece, “Detritus,” shredded self-images of the body accumulate into layers of dust. Through grinding images of myself with a grater, the essence of the images is explored and the “body” grows. In both “Debris” and “Detritus”, the colors are incidental to the photographs I use as source material. In these pieces, I am contemplating the daily loss and growth of the body.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
As a child, art wasnʼt especially interesting to me. Renaissance and academic art were my only references as to defining art. But, going into college, for the first time, I was exposed to contemporary art. Contemporary art excited me. In contemporary art, I saw limitless possibilities because anything is permissible (if grounded in conceptual or aesthetic reasoning). Parts of my personality that werenʼt being utilized finally found an outlet. My introspectiveness became my interest in self-portraiture. My need for independence became my love for inventing and initiating my own unique processes.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Due to the expense of buying a studio space, I converted a bay of the garage of my home into my studio space. Although I often work there, I can work anywhere because my work doesn’t require heavy, expensive machinery. I carry bits and pieces of my art around with me and I start working whenever I feel the impulse. I love to work anywhere… a park bench, the library, the kitchen, in the grass at a park. Working in public places generates a lot of useful public feedback.
Detritus Ground self-images  2014

Ground self-images

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first began to exhibit and do residencies, I didn’t realize the potential impact that artists have in the economic rejuvenation of areas. This is because of the energy and activity that arts bring. I’ve realized that artists often lead the vanguard in rejuvenating communities. Artists take advantage of areas with cheaper rent– galleries that are set up in these areas often helps turn the area around. Recently, I did an artist residency at Second Sight Studios in Columbus, Ohio in an area called Franklinton. I felt like I helped in a small way by just making and showing work and engaging the community in that way. Another burgeoning area that I am showing in is Braddock, Pennsylvania at Unsmoke Systems on September 13th. The goal of Unsmoke Systems is to revitalize the area through the arts. To learn more about my show at Unsmoke Systems, click here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1517910988438951/
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I work on art late at night in long spans of time. When i donʼt have time to make art I focus on the business side of art (researching exhibition opportunities, applying to shows). The best time to come up with ideas is in between sleeping and waking. During this time, your mind is flexible and able to make connections easily and quickly.
Accretion  Masking tape  2014

Masking tape

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

Unavoidably, self-portraiture and introspection continue to be at the core of my work. I donʼt intentionally go after these concepts, but they form the core of my body of work. Talking to my professor about this, she said, “You canʼt be anyone else but yourself”. The concepts within my body of work are so deeply ingrained in my personality that I couldnʼt possibly avoid them. Also, more and more, digital seeps into my work. Digital is technically difficult for me, but I try to go towards things that make me uncomfortable.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Other than Janine Antoni and Eva Hesse, the philosophical ideas of “ontology” and “essence” impact me. Ontological questions the meaning of being, existence, and reality. Searching for the “essence” of materials is also important in my work. Essence is the fundamental characteristics that make an entity what it is.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?I am interested in being an art professor after I get my MFA. Being a professor at a university would give me an automatic community of dedicated, talented peers.
IMAGE 1Julia Betts was born in 1991 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. In April 2014, Betts graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts leaving with six awards recognizing potential, leadership, and excellence within the Studio Arts department. Also, she received two Undergraduate Research Grants from the Office of Undergraduate Research. Since graduating, she has shown her work in exhibitions within and outside of Pittsburgh. Betts has exhibited in solo shows at Second Sight Studio in Columbus, Ohio and Unsmoke Systems in Pittsburgh, PA. Her numerous group exhibitions include “Identity Material” in Pittsburgh, “8 Hour Projects: Loss” in Meadville, PA, and “Construct” at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. This year, she completed an artist-in-residence program at Second Sight Studio and will soon have her next residency at Bunker Projects.
My studio ritual of cutting out pieces of paper prior to grinding images.

My studio ritual of cutting out pieces of paper prior to grinding images.

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.
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