Marie Julou creates paintings that embody her feminist ideals whilst responding subversively to abstract expressionism in a practice she calls, “Irreverent Abstraction”. Questioning the pomposity and purity of monochrome paintings, she adds glitter or plastic stars, sprinkling pigment like magic dust. A pencil doodle, a patch of mold, or a puddle of paint are elevated to high art status. At art school, she started using the pseudonym Marie Julou (her middle name and mother’s maiden name) to create a fictional artistic identity and to negate the patriarchal custom of taking the father’s name. Her practice combines an analysis of art historical moments through a feminist lens with a focus on the performative aspect of creating. References to spirituality and the sublime are threaded throughout the work as is a questioning of the idea of “skill” and a fascination with the alchemy of materials.
Her production contains many strands of investigation. Recent work plays on the idea of painting as dead and buried. After a visit to Pompeii, she imagined a museum buried by a volcanic explosion in the past and the paintings dug up 2,000 years in the future. The glittering surfaces are covered in stains made from water, pigments, burnt walnut shell and glitter, creating an effect of oxidation. Each painting has its own life and archaeology, a history of marks underneath the surface. Poetic titles such as, “The House of the Silver Wedding” or the “House of the Golden Cupid” are taken from the names of Roman Villas. Just as we mortals are subject to the invisible forces of decay and entropy, so are these paintings, undermining the idea that a painting could and should last forever. As artist David Ryan says, “Painting in its traditional form is an attempt to stop the disappearance of the present into the past, yet paint itself is no more stable than anything else”. Julou takes this idea further in the “Decaying Monochromes Series”, in which she responds obliquely to historical Yves Klein Blue paintings, re-interpreting them by imagining the effects of time and rain on the surface of the canvas. Shedding particles of pigment, they are decidedly unstable. Using Majorelle Blue obtained from Marrakesh, the pigment contains alum, which continue to form small crystals on the surface as they age.
In her most recent paintings, her irreverent attitude has come to the fore, influenced by John Armleder and his splash motif which he uses to, “undermine preconceptions about authenticity and the subjectivity of the heroic individual artist”, Julou has made works on paper called “Glitter Drawings”. In these works, puddles of water, glitter and pigment are left to evaporate, rendering strange ectoplasmic shapes, formed out of their own volition. The paintings make visible natural processes such as gravity, surface tension and dissolution. The idea of art as a religion is explored in “Archaeological Lip Prints”, in which Julou has imprinted her lips on the canvas(a reference to an earlier installation: “Kissed Mirrors”) leaving a trace like a caveman’s handprint, then obliterating them in pools of paint. In ““Red and Yellow and Green and Blue, Orange and Purple and Pink”, pastel blobs of paint are covered in glitter, echoing the sugary marks of the early impressionists while in “The River runs to the Sea”, paint dissolving in water draws a shape dictated by gravity.
Reinterpreting, democratizing or reclaiming art history, and undermining the idea of the lone artistic genius are also concerns in her parallel practice of “Re-creations” (made under her real name of Tina McCallan), a painting performance in which she transforms the audience of museums, often hundreds of people, into artists who paint their own collaborative masterpiece. These dazzling masterpieces are then left behind, as relics, in the museum. The overlap between the two practices is evident. The performative aspect of the “Re-creation” lays bare the alchemy of the artistic process, allowing the audience to watch and participate as the image comes into being. In this work, inspired by Relational Aesthetics, the process and interaction as well as the final painting become the artwork.
In this very public practice, McCallan, acting as the “Old Master” and director, grids up and draws out the skeleton of the image, as a kind of offering to the public who then paint over her drawing, a metaphor for the historical invisibility of women artists and a sublimation of the artistic ego. In the Marie Julou paintings, the materials, processes and science of painting itself are the subjects. Both parts of her practice examine art history from the inside out, taking ownership through a process of ingestion and regurgitation, analogous to how women might deal with art history.