From Blair Athol to Ballina to Spain to Yeppoon to New York City – Reflecting On Reflective Spaces – Artist Julie Barratt

Detail, Remember The Milk, Artist Julie Barratt, 2016 Epicormia Collective



Q. Tell me about your visual arts background Julie, arts education, and when, how, why you decided to become a professional visual artist and what continues to inspire you with artist books, sound art and installation work?



My arts career started relatively late in life. I had deferred going to arts school after high school, opting to travel for a year instead and staying overseas for four…


Life took many different paths as I forged a career in commercial printing and graphic design. A major illness at the end of my 30’s forced me to rethink my life and career, I initially went to TAFE to study art as a way of healing and getting back into activity. Following the completion of my Diploma of Art at Central Queensland TAFE I relocated to the Northern Rivers region of NSW to study art at Southern Cross University under my mentor Jan Davis.


Over the past seventeen years I have had an amazing, varied and interesting arts career having managed my own gallery for many years, worked in Community arts, arts management and have continued to work on my own arts practice as a print maker, artist book maker and installation artist.


Having begun my career binding books in a commercial printing company it makes sense that my visual arts career would became focused on artist books, which are now the mainstay of my arts practice and my passion. Artist books have taken me to exhibitions, conferences and gatherings all over the world.


I am just about to fly to NYC for the annual NY print fair where I have curated an exhibition of 8 Australian print makers (including myself) to show at the associated book fair at Central Booking Gallery on the lower east side of Manhattan. This is the first time an Australian contingent of artists have been invited to exhibit as a part of NY Print week: October 31- November 6 


Q. Tell me about your family background Julie, something of your family heritage/immigration story, and are there other artists in your family perhaps, if so tell me a wee bit about them? Did you grow up with arts and culture in your family, art on the walls/primary or secondary schooling etc, tell me about these things too?


My father immigrated to Australia in his early 30’s, he was a farmer and had met my mother on the ski slopes in Europe. I grew up from the age of six on a 12,000 acre property in Central Queensland.


Growing up in a remote location with 4 siblings in a huge playground with no distractions such as TV fostered a healthy imagination, we were also all avid readers from a young age. Spending a lot of time wandering in the bush, we built our own dwellings, had our own secret language and were performing quite complex musicals at a very young age. The one I remember most clearly was called ‘Don the Dreamer’ and this musical with percussion accompaniment was subsequently performed to my grandparents and neighbours on Sydney’s North Shore at my grandparents house when we went for our annual visit. I was probably aged eight at the time.


I think that all five siblings are creative in our own ways. My sister Virginia is a writer currently writing her doctorate at Western Sydney Writing and Society Centre on the topic of panic, affect and deterritorialisation. Virginia travels and performs widely.


Q. Tell me about your experience of illness and disability, what happened, when, where, how, why and how – what happened next? What are two or three experiences unfolding now/ happening now with some measure of reflection, about your own experiences of “epicormic” regrowth, what has this direct lived experience over time provided you, is providing now?


As I mentioned earlier my life changed drastically when I became very ill after contracting encephalitis. In hindsight this momentous life event was instrumental in bringing the arts front and centre into my life again (probably for the first time since that small child drew extensive patterns in the black soil of her childhood ) it has also given me the capacity to see the importance of my arts practice as central to my health and well being on an ongoing basis.


Q. Tell me in some detail about your work in the arts and disability sector today and how it is informed by your past experiences in the field Julie, how have things changed for the better or the worst, and what needs to change, why so, and how do you think this can be made possible? 


I spent a number of years working as Regional Arts Development Manager for Accessible Arts ( the peak body in NSW for Arts and Disability ) This huge role had me working across regional NSW supporting artists with disability into opportunities, writing grant applications, curating exhibitions, fostering inclusion and inclusive practice across the arts.


I was instrumental in supporting the initial setting up of Sprung! Integrated Dance Theatre based in Ballina, which continues to go from strength to strength. The other focus of my position was to work with venues – galleries, museums, performing arts spaces, to ensure that they were accessible to people with disability. The focus was not just on physical disability but sensory disability as well.


This is something that is very close to my heart having the lived experience of being primary carer for my blind mother. I recently curated a touring tactile exhibition for Grafton Regional Gallery, which includes an audio link containing spoken artist info and bios and didactic information etc. I believe that arts and culture should be accessible to all people in our society.



Q. And your involvement in the Epicormia Collective, sixteen months of professional development so far and a new exhibition opportunity at NRCG Ballina this November 23, 2016. How has this shared journey helped you change and grow and think, and how has it hindered you? Tapping into the curatorial idea/metaphor of the “re-authoring impulse”, re-authoring from an artist’s perspective rather than a therapeutic perspective, or both perhaps?



I think my involvement in the Epicormia Collective has continued to allow me to reflect on the many and varied journey’s that we are all living in this crazy, chaotic life and what it means to be working in inclusive practice. The members of the Epicormia Collective are incredible people (and accomplished artists) all with our own particular challenges and it is enlightening and encouraging to have worked in a group that has been flexible and open to diverse ways of working together, and separately. Paul Andrew has been a wonderful mentor and friend throughout the process.


Being involved in the collective has also given me the chance to reflect on my art practice and how my practice is central to my health and well being….arts practice as daily practice, the importance of ‘slow art’, as meditation, making use of materials at hand ( site specific practice)…consequently this new body of work is quite different from my previous art making.



Q. And this exhibition project also links in to the International Day of People with Disability on December 3, what insights and/or issues about living and working with arts and disability are you hoping to share or highlight through this artist-run collaboration?



I think that it is great to highlight the professional nature of an exhibition such as this on IDPWD but I would also like to see exhibitions of work by people with disability hung in galleries everywhere on the merit of the artists and their work not just on IDPWD.


The work should speak for itself and have the professional standing to be exhibited in any gallery at any time.


This is true inclusivity! The fact that the artists have a lived experience of disability (as well as illness in this case!) should not be the focus… it should be about the artwork.


Q. Having a shared and independent care support network in place is so necessary and crucial for artists living and working with disability? What are your thoughts about this for artists needing added professional development opportunities; exhibitions, studios, funding investment, networking and so on, particularly artists living in regional areas like the Northern Rivers?



It is vital that artist living and working with disability have access to support networks to assist with everything from grant writing, website development, social networks, exhibition development and all of the same areas that all artists need whether they live with a disability or not. The fact that government arts funding has been severely cut in the last couple of years (particularly to regional arts and arts and disability) has meant that services and access to funding (and therefore support networks and services) has been depleted. This highlights the importance even more of collectives such as Epicormia and sustainable practice. Together we can achieve great things! Community and collaboration are key to sustainable arts practice in the future in my opinion.


Q. And hobbies, tell me about your hobbies Julie, everyone needs hobbies, why so in your view? (etymology of hobby – late Middle English hobyn, hoby, from pet forms of the given name Robin . Originally in sense 2 (compare with dobbin), it later came to denote a toy horse or hobby horse, hence ‘an activity done for pleasure’.) Do these hobbies inform your art making, how so?



My art making is my hobby, my passion…not sure I can differentiate between my art and my other passions. I absolutely love to read. And to walk, I have just walked over 20 kms a day for a month in Eastern Europe.


Reading and walking both feed into those reflective spaces that are also where I am when I am creating art.


Q. Books, mark making and writing are an ongoing thematic in your artist book work Julie, tell me about your work with books, mark making and writing as metaphors Julie? And in particular how your practice employs an expanded/expanding view of what an artist book is and can be, contesting more traditional models of artist books to more transdisciplinary models? 



I think that there are so many styles, genres, media employed in artist books today that it is difficult to even come up with a definition of the artist book that is agreed on by the artist book community as a whole! That said it makes it a very exciting time to be working with the artist book community.


My artist books always employ some form of narrative storytelling as my latest work will attest to.


My latest work Blair Athol Recut was created during a Fellowship at the State Library of Queensland and focuses on the notion of Solastalgia. This work is about the removal of an entire township to make way for the largest coal seam in the Southern Hemisphere at the time. It just so happened that this was my town. This is where I went to primary school, bought lollies at the corner shop, had my first school dance in the community hall, swam in the creek, learnt to play tennis. This book includes photo etchings as well as a tactile and sound element.


The artist book community globally is a very vibrant community that has ‘come of age’ and I look forward to being a part of this community again next week at NY Print Week in downtown Manhattan.


Julie’s Artist Website:

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