Briefly describe the work you do.
Using hardware store materials, found furniture, decorative kitsch, and custom fabric, I create theatrical site-specific installations that explore illusion, domesticity and boundaries.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in a middle class Jewish family in a suburb of Washington, DC, an incredibly diverse and sprawling part of the country. I acted in my high school plays (lots of Shakespeare and bit character roles in musicals), took ballet lessons until I was 16 and played the flute. I spent my last year of high school taking drawing classes at a community college. After college at the University of Maryland, I worked as a buyer for an organic grocery store and then as the receptionist at the International Association of Firefighters. When I was 26, I moved to Seattle to get my MFA at the University of Washington. Almost 9 years later, I am still struck by how different the landscape, climate, culture, and pace of the Northwest is in relation to my hometown. I think my work is a response to the way our environment shapes our experiences and what it means to adapt to a new place. I also see a connection to my love of theater and performance. My set-like installations are created largely through improvisation and must be experienced in person before they ultimately disappear.
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.”
I would describe my studio practice as fairly traditional in that I am, in fact, toiling away alone in a room. I work lots of part-time contract jobs, like teaching and artist assisting, which allow me to be in the studio a lot. It’s a small converted bedroom in my house which I constantly rearrange to accommodate the type of work I’m doing. If I’m in-between installations, I make lots of small-to-medium-size watercolors on a 4×8 table in the middle of the room and hang the in-progress work all over the walls so I can reflect on them. If I have an installation to prepare, I push the furniture against the walls and put plastic tarps down so I can assemble, alter, or paint more sculptural things. When I run out of room, I overflow into the living room and kitchen.
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?
It never occurred to me just how much time I’d spend researching and writing proposals for grants, residencies, and other opportunities. It’s a good 30% of my studio practice. Conveniently, my computer is just feet away, so if I get stuck in my work, I travel over to the internet for research and editing. Luckily, I enjoy this aspect of being an artist almost as much as making the work.
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?
Because of the flexibility in my schedule and the fact that my studio is in my house, I work in there almost seven days a week. Naturally, some days are more productive than others, but if I’m excited about a new idea or working towards a deadline, I could be in the studio from morning til night with lots of little breaks. I am most productive from 9am-noon and 4pm-8pm.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I think my work has become more refined while also becoming more open. I am getting closer to making the work I really want to make; work that gets closer to revealing things about myself to myself.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
My mom has always been creative. She’s a gardener and a teacher. On sick days growing up, we would do sewing projects instead of zoning out on the tv, though there was plenty of that, too. My husband is also an artist and his commitment to making art and shutting out the noise help keep me focused on what’s important – making the work. Artists I constantly go back to for inspiration are Lee Bontecou, Jessica Stockholder, Ludovica Gioscia, and Amy Yoes. I saw a killer Kerry James Marshall retrospective in Madrid last summer as well as a mind-blowing Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller show in Vancouver. I like artists who deal with real and perceived space.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I would work with animals. Maybe a wildcat rescue.
Julie Alpert is an installation artist and painter whose work addresses illusion, domesticity, and boundaries. She has an MFA from the University of Washington and a BA from the University of Maryland. She is the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Award, MacDowell Colony Fellowship, The New Foundation Grant, and The Neddy at Cornish Award Finalist. Julie was a member of SOIL Gallery from 2009-2014 and will be Artist-in-Residence at Clark College this Spring.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.