Julian is a British artist whose work is very disciplined and almost commercial. He uses photography to express his message http://www.julianhanfordart.com/ but it’s merely one tool in his arsenal. What inspires him? Here’s our cool chat...
MICHAEL: Hey Julian, Your work so crisp, clean and disciplined. It almost looks manufactured to perfection. How do you describe your aesthetic?
JULIAN: Hi Michael. Well, I guess that my crispness comes from a long, former career as an advertising creative. I've got an inbuilt mechanism that has been honed from many years of aiming for aesthetic perfection - however pointless a pursuit that is. My main criteria now, though, is to articulate all the ludicrous anomalies I see in our human condition and it seems to me that a clean, precise style of delivery of those ideas is the best way of communicating them without distracting bravura techniques.
MICHAEL: Your work is visually seductive and even corporate. But is the corporate treatment a tribute or parody?
JULIAN: Oh, most definitely a parody. I use the aesthetic language of commercial communications to question the nature of the societal boxes that we've allowed to be created for us and around us. I question everything now - myself even more than anything else - and I also question the apathy we have as a race to the awe inspiring and growing knowledge of our insignificance in the extraordinary universe, juxtaposed with our day to day mundane existence on our little ball of rock. I'd say ludicrous juxtapositions sum up my whole motivation, really - as a civilization, we say one thing, but we do another, in an endless loop…
MICHAEL: You clearly spend a lot of time with photography and manipulating images. Do you consider yourself a photographer or photographic artist?
JULIAN: That’s a distinction that I've personally struggled to define myself, but I now consider myself an artist who uses photography as a primary medium. The reason I say this is that the body of work I'm currently working on, which has moved on from the work that I'm currently exhibiting, includes an increasing amount of three-dimensional installation, model-making and even painting. I hate being limited in my vision by a particular medium and although I'm technically adept at the mechanics and aesthetics of photography, I'm not intellectually wedded to it. That is why I embrace modern manipulation techniques, as I don't feel a particular kinship with traditional 'photography'. I want to be in a position to use whatever is necessary to get across an idea. Also, the labels that we as a society feel we have to put on things have limited our imagination to a certain extent, I believe. We pigeon-hole naturally to make sense of our navigation of the world, whereas when we let go of our pre-conceptions, a more interesting vista is opened up to us. The baggage that goes with the label 'photographer' is not something that I feel best expresses my trajectory of work.
MICHAEL: I really like the white human figures eyeing the photographs on your website. Are they just website adornment or installations? I hope they're installations. What purpose do they serve?
JULIAN: Okay, so actually, sorry to disappoint, but the white figures started life as a purely practical way of illustrating the size of each piece, in a gallery style environment. I've got a bit of a thing about size, being very influenced by classical painting, and frustrated by the way that seeing art on computer screens somehow trivializes images. There is nothing like confronting a large impressive image in a gallery - the entire feeling and communication are different, so these figures helped me to convey the size and impact of my work on the website. However, as you have picked up on, they are beginning to have a life of their own, and might start featuring in their own pieces - everything for me seems to lead on to the next work, in a kind of arc.
MICHAEL: I absolutely love one of your huge prints called, Rush Hour. I grew up in New York City and I totally "get it." What was the inspiration behind it?
JULIAN: It was Mahatma Gandhi who said that, "There is more to life than increasing its speed.” In the short time that I have been on this planet, I have seen such extraordinary and profound technological changes happen with ever increasing acceleration. However, the most poignant and fundamental of these is the change in which we communicate as a species. I am an evolutionary optimist, and generally believe that either we will peak and diminish and therefore, by our own volition, cease to exist or we will grasp the Darwinian imperative and stride ever more confidently toward our interstellar destiny. RUSH HOUR is a visually simple expression of how I feel about the frenetic and energetic transition we're in at the moment. The point of inspiration for it happened as I was looking at my phone on the London underground one day. I glanced up and saw everyone else heads down glued to theirs. In that moment, it dawned on me, that we were just in that second all looking at exactly the same world, but individually at the bit of it that we personally had decided was important to us. And it is all completely transitory information. The piece was just a case of articulating that visually. Oh, and visually, I just had to include a few smashed screens in there as well - just for ironic realism, you understand.
MICHAEL: I think I agree with you when you say "interstellar destiny," but what does that term mean to you?
JULIAN: I was a child of the space age. I find it difficult now to articulate quite how wildly exhilarating and progressive that period felt to an impressionable kid. My mother took me to see Kubrick's 2001 when I was eight years old, and while I couldn't at that time understand the film's philosophical imperative, I knew instinctively that I was seeing something profoundly special. 2001 is a very important work of creativity, probably one of the most important ever, in my opinion. After it eventually came out on video and then DVD, I have probably watched it at least once every year since. Whether the suggested historical content of the film is valid or not is irrelevant; what it teaches us is to question everything, and in particular, blind traditions. We are discovering that the universe is an extremely weird place - far weirder that we could ever imagine. Things like quantum entanglement, for instance, where two particles huge distances apart can still make each other vibrate at the same frequency. We will either use this new knowledge, coupled with extraordinary advances in technology, to expand our species out into, firstly, the solar system, and then into interstellar space, or we will destroy ourselves and become a footnote in the universe's evolutionary journey towards ultimate consciousness. We're not doing a very good job of it at the moment, but there are signs that if we start really changing our outdated dogmas and views, we just might make it. Anyhow, it gives me a wealth of creative material with which to work with in my lifetime, and I certainly won't be around when and if we manage to achieve this destiny.
MICHAEL: Where are you? London? What do you think about the art world? So many living artists are struggling these days. Your thoughts?
JULIAN: Yes, I am in London. My views on the art world? Probably not very orthodox. On the surface, the global art market is unfathomable to most people. I don't think anyone can really put their hand on their heart and swear that they know what will be uber-successful and what will not. There is a great deal of game-playing - and it is so often not the really talented artists who are propelled to the top of the pile. Actually, though, for all its perceived glamour and mythology - art success is 99% marketing. There has always been the cultural cliche of the artist as tortured soul - spiritually far above the grubby transactional world of commerce, and this is an image that all galleries are very keen to keep going. It positions them as the ‘pragmatic experts’ and builds even more expensive auras around the artists. However, one only has to witness the rise of the marketing-savvy artists of the late 20th/early 21st century to see that the road to success is changing radically, and any artist who believes that what they have got to say is worthy of a large audience will have to be a great marketer as well. The trouble is there are most who aren't, and so do not act accordingly. The internet is a dual-edged weapon - on one hand, it gives us all a huge global forum for our work, but on the flip side, there is so much 'stuff' in front of us all day every day, that it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds. I'm happy to position myself firmly in the 'savvy' camp.
MICHAEL: You also play with Surrealism in your work. It looks fun. What's that all about?
JULIAN: Surrealism, from the original idea behind the movement, is to juxtapose disparate objects and ideas that when combined have a totally different interpretation - which is why so many surrealist images are seemingly dreamlike. I think my approach is similar, but a bit more conscious. Probably my most surreal piece in the orthodox sense is 'The Dream of J.Bruce-Ismay', where the Titanic is floating in the air suspended over a calm and infinite ocean. In this case, I was taking it as read that we all know the Titanic's story. Therefore, I wanted to present her when she was merely a grand dream in the mind of the man who commissioned her. J Bruce-Ismay, you may remember from the film, is the White Star owner who manages to jump ship with the women and children, rather than go down with the ship as the captain and designer did. I think we take all that knowledge into account when we look at this image, and it makes the calmness and confidence of it even more poignant because of that. I think what I do is use juxtaposition to find fresh perspectives on familiar thoughts. 'The Pursuit of Happiness' for instance is a comment on our modern obsession with consumerism and in particular, home entertainment technology. Have you had a look around the back of your TV set lately? It's also a metaphor for the idea that for all the happiness that we think we are buying into, there is still only the one 'plug'. The other blatant surreal composition that comes to mind is 'Sunday Morning, About Teatime' which juxtaposes the three plaster flying ducks wall ornament, which is a ubiquitous symbol of British kitsch naffness, against the awe inspiring majesty of the universe that we are now discovering. This theme comes up a lot for me - the general apathy we have as a race to the bigger questions of our existence. Which is why traditional religions are a convenient pigeon hole for our limited understanding. Oh, and I do like to have a bit of fun with imagery, because I think that ideas lodge deeper in the mind when they are delivered with a wry, complicit humour. It's a direct dialogue with the viewer, that we are both in on the idea.
MICHAEL: Finally Julian, What does art do for you? I mean, many if not most people don't even appreciate art, let alone buy it. What's the point of it? What do you want to say through your work?
JULIAN: Art has been my friend for as long as I can remember. Even before I ever thought that I would end up as an artist, art was exposing my mind to a massive influx of new thinking. I think it was Picasso who said that 'Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life' and that is exactly how it is for me. I cannot conceive of a world where I could not wander into a gallery and be entranced by the creativity of my fellow humans. I really do try to reach out with my work to people who have felt thus far 'excluded' from art by the market's frigid self-appointed ego. I think the most exciting art is that which promotes rich dialogue, not resigned sighs. Art is the highest form of the striving of human consciousness, and we owe it to ourselves to involve everyone in its beautiful message.
MICHAEL: Thanks Julian. It was fun indeed.
Check out Julian at http://www.julianhanfordart.com/.