Number Interviews: Julia Morrisroe

By Natalie Tyree

Julia Morrisroe, Knowns and Unknowns 40 x 40 Acrylic on Canvas
Julia Morrisroe, Knowns and Unknowns 40 x 40 Acrylic on Canvas

Julia Morrisroe’s I’m Sorry You Were Saying was recently on view at Delta State University’s Fielding Wright Art Center Gallery in Cleveland, MS. Julia Morrisroe is an artist and Associate Professor in painting and drawing at the University of Florida. Morrisroe’s work explores the question of what it means to paint today in an age in which digital technology has led to the proliferation and instant availability of images. Morrisroe is interested in how the flood of images streaming in front of our eyes have affected the way we perceive these images. As Morrisroe explains, “Images can be replicated, expanded, enhanced or associated with other images (relevant or not) instantaneously.

The simultaneity of image and experience has led to images becoming hyper-contextualized. The image can no longer exist as a single painting but belongs to a network.” Morrisroe creates series of abstract paintings that invite the viewer to explore this hyper-contextualized condition. In her paintings patterns that are repeated, inverted, rescaled, disrupted, or reappear in different media. The artist’s intention is to “subvert the viewer’s’ desire to look at one painting, compelling a rambling, hyperlinked experience of viewing.”


Can you briefly describe your professional/artistic background?


I earned my BFA I painting and drawing at Northern Illinois University and my MFA at University of Washington. They were both big art schools with a large faculty with diverse interests. They were both great places for me to be.


 How do you navigate your personal studio process?

Navigating is such a perfect word choice! I often feel like I’m steering an ocean liner with a lot of different opportunities occurring at every moment so choosing how and when to dock in the studio is critically important.  I think we’re all a bit overwhelmed by the demands of contemporary life and the edges or the bleed between every part of our lives is what I’m exploring in my paintings. During the academic year, if I’m lucky, I have two days a week in the studio and I bookend that time with ink drawing at the beginning and note taking at the end. I keep stacks of book size pages handy and use these to start the day with ink drawings.


This helps me exercise my hand and focus my mind. I then review my notes from my previous studio day. I don’t think these notes are literate, or even comprehensible to anyone other than me, but they serve to bring me back to the point I where left off with the work. Since I tend to work on 6-10 paintings at a time the book ending process helps. Painting, for me, is labor intensive and it’ll take a year to finish six or eight paintings. I build a lot of layers and work both additively and subjectively. For example, I might spend a week building layers upon layers of a color pattern just so I can use my palm sander to grind away layers to build the right surface color and quality–the process seems to grow every year.


Is your practice mostly intuitive, theory-based, or some combination of the two?


It’s definitely a combination. I have a pretty contentious relationship with painting and teach theories of painting in my studio courses. I love it, but I make painting fight for its existence in my studio. That means I don’t take for granted that a new project has to manifest in paint. I’m always interested in issues of substance and support, that’s been a constant concern of my work. Right now that question resolves as painting, but I’ve had periods when I’ve embroidered on baby diapers, carved images into gypsum board, or drawn directly on the wall. So, the role of painting and how painting can function in society is something I actively question. Can paintings exist as an installation? Can the public look at paintings as hyperlinks or is this beyond our visual capability?

Julia Morrisroe Knowns and Unknowns 50 x 50 Acrylic on Canvas
Julie Morrisroe Knowns and Unknowns 50 x 50 Acrylic on Canvas

Yeah, that’s a hard one. I live with doubt about everything I make. Did I push it far enough or accept it too soon? Generally I don’t commit to a painting until time has past, usually years. Even after I’ve shown work if I get it back in the studio I change it.  Eight years ago I completed a public art project for the Jacksonville International Airport. I just concluded this week, while waiting for a flight, that it was complete and that I like it. That distance seems to let me look at the work with fresh eyes and appreciate it without focusing on the ten million little micro failures that I experience as a maker. I feel like I’m in the company of Giacometti in this way, there’s always just this one little change that could perfectly resolve a work–which generally includes a complete reconstruction. It’s a tough way to create. I envy artists with greater certitude but accept this is just who I am as an artist.


What books, records and movies are influencing your practice at this time?


Last fall, as a visiting professor in Turkey, a graduate student recommended Daniel Arasse’s book Take a Closer Look. Arasse pushes aside theory and art historical analyses and focuses on the act of looking and thinking as integral to understanding. In a world filled with images he argues that we see but don’t notice what is represented let alone consider what it means. Writing in the form of a letter to a colleague Arasse examines Tintoretto’s Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan to suggest that the reflection of Vulcan’s backside doesn’t match Vulcan’s posture and suggest the mirror might be conveying a future scene of the painting rather than the present. His enthusiasm for looking deeply is an important contribution to the field.


I’m also a huge fan of epic and particularly rambling fiction. I just finished Orhan Panuk’s melancholy book A Strangeness of the Mind that sweeps through the past half century in Istanbul. Panuk uses multiple voices and a large extended family to explore the experiences of families leaving the countryside to pursue opportunities in the city. What matters in life plays out in relationships between family members and the struggle to make ends meet. Fate plays a large role in the characters’ lives in Panuk’s book and that highlights our cultural differences. I know my reading tends to reflect and influence my studio work; both of these books bring together and make connections between large and diverse bodies of knowledge pointing out the connections that function both above and below the surface.