Studio Visit

Julian Meagher

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
19th of April 2013
New paintings by Sydney based artist Julian Meagher for his current Brisbane show, The Space Between Clouds And Mud, open now until May 4th.  Photo - Phu Tang.
Julian Meagher in his Sydney studio. Photo - Phu Tang.
Julian Meagher  puts the finishing touches on paintings for his current show. Photo - Phu Tang.
Julian Meagher's Sydney studio. Photo - Phu Tang.
In most of our interviews we like to ask each interviewee which other creative professionals they are currently loving. There's a good reason for this... it's excellent research!  You might recall during our recent interview with Sydney architect Hannah Tribe, she was quick to list painter Julian Meagher as one of her current favourite local artists.  And so it's probably no surprise really that we're here just a few months later with a follow up story on Julian's beautiful work! (Thanks for the tip off Hannah!) Julian has an interesting back story.  He's been a fulltime artist for seven years, but prior to this he worked briefly as a doctor.  Now there's a career trajectory you don't come across every day!  Nevertheless, despite his early encounter with medicine, Julian explains below that he's always been drawn to fine art and image making, having taken art classes after school since his teenage years.  Eventually, he mustered up the courage to leave medicine behind and explore the possibility of making fine art a viable career path - an intuitive decision based essentially on 'avoiding regret later in life' he says. With its gentle, painterly style and soft palette of washed out blues and pinks, at first glance you mightn't gather the recurrent themes upon which most of Julian's work is based. His work centres generally around modern day masculinity, covering male rituals such as tattooing, drinking and sporting heroes. Julian refers to these paintings as 'male still lives'. For his current exhibition in Brisbane, The Space Between Clouds, Julian explores this re-occuring subject matter with a collection of incredible large scale still lives, displayed alongside a smaller series of floating portraits of Australian Rugby players.  A surprisingly powerful pairing! Massive thanks to Julian for sharing his work with us today!  If you're in Brisbane now or soon, be sure to check out Julian's beautiful work at Edwina Corlette Gallery until May 4th! The Space Between Clouds And Mud by Julian Meagher Open now until 4th May Edwina Corlette Gallery 2/55 Brunswick Street New Farm, QLD Julian is represented by Chalk Horse in Sydney, Gallery Eclosse in the Southern Highlands, Metro Gallery in Melbourne, and Edwina Corlette in Brisbane.
Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming a fine artist, and to creating the style of work you are currently making?
I've been painting full-time for seven years now, before that I trained and worked as a doctor for a bit. I am one of six children from a very creative family, there were two studios at home, one for mum and one for all of us to share. I had always wanted to be an artist since I was a kid, it just took me a little while to grow the balls to pursue it properly. I knew it was not an easy career choice, but as I got older I began to make decisions based on avoiding big regrets later in life. Medicine did some good things for me though, such as appreciating certain things in life and also not being afraid to take risks, and it also gave me good discipline. Even as a kid I had been going to an art college after school – as a 15-year-old boy I remember thinking why didn't everyone want to draw nude models in their free time? In my early twenties I took a year off uni and went to a very traditional portraiture school in Florence, where I learnt most of the techniques I still use today. I paint in oils, however I thin them down with mediums and scrub them back to give them the appearance of delicate watercolours.
How would you describe your work?
My subject matter centres generally around men and the binary nature of modern day masculinity. Paint what you know I guess. I like to paint what I call 'male still lives' as well as portraits of male sporting heroes. Anything to do with male rituals, such as tattooing, and drinking, are common subjects. Another thing I am really interested in are colour associations, especially with the colours blue and pink, so these colours dominate my work. Can only real men wear pink? Why are little boys supposed to like blue? Recently I have been painting the amazingly bizarre and endearing Papua New Guinean male Birds of Paradise, I just love the lengths these little men go to to attract a female mate. They are the ultimate in male showmanship and sexual selection, and you can see so much of them mirrored in human interactions.
Julian Meagher's Sydney studio. Photo - Phu Tang.
What can we expect to see in your new exhibition ‘The Space Between Clouds And Mud’ at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane? What has inspired this body of work?
I am really happy with this latest body of work. It features quite a few subjects which all add to the narrative of this exhibition. I had a show last year at the Australian High Commission in Singapore, and had the chance to go to the orchid gardens, and the reference I gained there has made up the bulk of this show. I got some amazing shots of rare orchids and ferns. Orchida is Greek for testicle, they used to grind up the bulbs and drink them with goat's milk as an aphrodisiac. A lot of these works have an element of humour in them I guess, a lot of pink shadows, and the objects are all presented on plinths, kind of elevating them into more symbolic forms. An important part of this show is a series of floating portraits of some of the NRL Brisbane Broncos, all looking up to the heavens while wearing their team's colours, about to go into battle.
Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use? Is each work pre-planned or created very intuitively? Do you work on multiple canvases at one time? And how long does each work take to complete?
I like to think of the show title first and then work from there, this one is based on a Japanese Proverb which implies a vast dichotomous distance. I start to think about compositions a few days out from starting a work, however the final decisions are always made on the day. The way I work with very thin washes means the work has to be hit correctly the first time, as I use the linen underneath a lot to give it a luminosity rather than using white, so if it doesn't work straight up, I usually have to stretch up another canvas. I actually like this process, as I am a bit of a perfectionist and I would overwork the hell out of the work otherwise! Because I use layers and glazes, I always have a few on the go so I can rotate them round.
Julian in the studio. Photo - Phu Tang.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I like to start each day in the ocean, no amount of therapy can match clearing the head like a swim can! Afterwards I head to my studio in Surry Hills. There are a number of artists and writers in my studio, and we are all old friends, so it is a great work environment. They are great to not only bounce ideas off and stay positive, but also to lunch together and discuss things outside of work. Painting can be quite isolating otherwise. I always try to get my emailing done as fast as possible and aim to get my first session of painting done by lunch, this way I've made head way for a piece to work on in the afternoon. I set myself pretty strict deadlines for each day, and normally won't leave the studio till I reach them. I normally end up working late about two nights a week, there is something about working at night that always makes for a good painting session. Things I try and avoid throughout the day are sitting in front of my computer and using my phone, although I am a sucker for a good YouTube clip! But usually if I'm in the studio I get frustrated if I am not painting.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?
My inspiration comes mainly from observing the world around me. I often photograph things I come across and then later use them as reference for an artwork. Music seems to play a huge part in the process of making a work, whether it be internet radio, or programs such as Pandora, they all help to encourage me to finish a lot of works. I am currently listening to a lot of Frank Ocean and Metronomy. Juxtapoz is a good art magazine to keep up to date with things. Art Fairs also provide a lot of inspiration, seeing artists execute things on a super high end scale keeps me loving what I do. I think travel is really important to keep shaping your aesthetic and to keep inspired. In the social media realm, I have really gotten into Instagram recently, I like how image based it is rather then text based. Apart from art, my other obsessions are food and basketball. Food = Happiness for me. It is simple mathematics.
Which other local artists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
The artist Jasper Knight who I work with has always been a huge inspiration. His passion and energy for art in all its forms is infectious. Mark Whalen is also a great artist, I love how unique his practice and vision is. His absurd parallel universes of the human psyche composed of architectural patterns and strange hooded figures are brilliant. Gemma Smith's sculptures and paintings are sublime, her explorations of colour theory, pictorial depth and sculptural form are superb. I also went to the book launch of my friend Monica Trapaga recently and was so inspired by her energy and talent and innate creativity.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
To be honest I am most proud of being able to walk into a studio every day of the week. Making a living off colouring in isn't as easy as it sounds! Exhibiting at International Art Fairs such as Scope Miami and Shanghai Contemporary and also having a recent show in Los Angeles at MK Gallery have been really proud moments as well. I am lucky to have some great dealers who look after me in Brisbane (Edwina Corlette) and Melbourne (Alex McCulloch at Metro Gallery) who are great people to work with. I am also one of the directors of Chalk Horse Gallery in Sydney, and it has been going strongly for about six years now. We focus on showing emerging contemporary art and getting our artists a lot of exposure through Art Fairs. We try and keep the shows more about art rather than the commercial side of it all.
Julian is one of the directors at Chalk Horse Gallery in Sydney.  Photo - Phu Tang.
What would be your dream project?
Probably a big show in a public institution, something that allowed me the freedom to make works on an immense scale.
What are you looking forward to?
I am going to Hong Kong Art Fair and Venice Biennale in May and June. I am really looking forward to going to Italy, I am going to spend some time there painting for my next show. Despite an Irish background I feel there is some Italian in my blood!


Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?
Gordon's Bay is my favourite spot at the moment. I live in busy Darlinghurst so escaping to the sea and snorkelling there feels like I am on holiday. It has a hidden feel, and more of a mediterranean style cove.
Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?
Parker's Fine Art Supply and Bunnings provide all I need. My style only works on oil primed linen, I cannot get the same effect on acrylic primed canvas. Often when I am buying materials, I find that advertisement playing in my head - 'Cos I'm worth it'. A friend of mine sometimes whispers 'Cos I'm worthless' in moments like these, which I have now adopted as well!
Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
The restaurant Vini in Surry Hills delivers big time on a Tuesday with their Italian regional set menu dinner - it helps it is just around the corner from the studio. A lot of love and no pretension goes into their dishes and service.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
My girlfriend is obsessed with going out for breakfast, so I am always in a cafe around Darlinghurst or Surry Hills reading the paper on a Saturday morning. Berta is my favourite currently.
Sydney’s best kept secret?
Milk Beach. Trust me.
Studio materials.  Photo - Phu Tang.

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