Contemporary Craft (CC): How would you describe your medium?
Julia Harrison (JH): I make sculpture and jewelry from wood (mostly). Wood is a material that suits me on nearly every level; from the basics of how it looks and feels, to the complexities of each piece’s inherent story and unique personality. I also enjoy “collaborating” with a material that is so much a part of my everyday life; some of my current favorite wood was gleaned from a neighbor’s yard.
CC: What themes/forms seem to recur in your work?
JH: A lot of my earlier work depicted parts of the human body, while my more recent work reproduces inanimate objects. In both cases, I’m trying to learn something about emotions and relationships by focusing my attention (and maybe a viewer’s) on something that is fleeting or often over-looked whether that’s a facial expression, or an object so everyday that we become blind to it.
CC: Can you talk a little bit about one of your favorite pieces that you have made?
JH: “Favorite” is tough, so how about the most recent? I’m carving a series of milk cartons from solid wood. From a purely formal perspective they’re interesting because I had underestimated how complex and detailed they are (“familiar” is not the same as “simple”). For me personally, there’s also a lot of emotional associations dating back to childhood (Did I remember my milk money? Will I get the last chocolate milk? What really happened to that kid in the picture?). Conveying emotion through carvings of facial features isn’t exactly easy, but it is expected; I’m really caught up now in trying to elicit emotions through forms we don’t expect to have emotions.
CC: What is the best advice that you have received as an artist?
JH: I always recommend Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird; although ostensibly a writing manual, it is full of things that will help you to approach almost any activity. The advice that I return to again and again is, “Give yourself permission to write sh*tty first drafts.” Carvings in particular look horrible for a looooong time and it can get a little demoralizing; this advice reassures me that it’s ok to start bad and get better.
CC: Have you been to Pittsburgh before? What are you looking forward to seeing/doing while here?
JH: This will be my first visit! It’s going to be a short one, but I’ve got a few goals. In addition to being an artist, I’m also an anthropologist specializing in research on sweet foods (seriously!) so I don’t want to miss the opportunity to sample some Pittsburgh specialties. Top of my list is Prantl’s burnt almond torte, but I’m always open to suggestions!