Julia Medynska was shortlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020 with her work Bacon Baby. In the painting, visceral brush marks make out a ghostly vision, an ambiguous, unsettling image that leaves the viewer guessing, suspended in darkness. Here, Julia talks about learning from the Baroque artists, her daily drawing practice, preparing her canvases and how her background in theatre led her to becoming a painter.
Above image: Narcissus, 2019, Julia Medynska, Oil on linen, 50.8 x 40.6 cm
Clare: Can you tell us about your artistic background/education?
Julia: I started out in the theatre originally. Straight after high school, I moved to New York City to study acting. However, I soon realised that I wanted to tell my own stories rather than be in them. Painting became my chosen medium, due to its ability to create an illusionistic view into another world. I returned to school and received my BA and my MFA from Columbia University.
Clare: Where does a painting begin for you? Can you take us through your process?
Julia: It’s hard to pin it down. I have many different ways of working, as I like to change up the process to keep myself excited and interested. Sometimes I like to pick up an old painting, my own—or a discarded one from a fellow painter. I like having colours and textures already present when I begin. The starting point for me is either a photograph, a film still, or a painting. As my painting evolves, the original image transforms. I have an extensive archive of images. I have also become a fan of first covering a clean new canvas in black paint, then wipe it away in order to create light, and once it has dried I glaze it with colours.
Clare: The dramatic lighting in a sea of darkness is classic chiaroscuro. Are you interested in the old masters’ use of drama?
Julia: Yes, I have developed a great passion for Baroque painters. Their use of dramatic movement, darkness and extreme lighting is very effective in heightening emotions. Such finesse in theatricality has a very big influence on me. I keep learning more and more. Recently, I have also started examining Baroque sculpture and ornamentation. It’s something I like to add to my work.
Clare: Can you tell us about your shortlisted painting? Is it a butcher with a young pig or is something more sinister going on?
Julia: I never know what the final painting will look like. I usually choose an image to start from, based on an interesting lighting scenario or a figure holding a pose that intrigues me. I began this particular painting looking at a vintage photograph of a nurse washing a baby. I was drawn to the white uniform and the stark lighting. Slowly the woman started to look like a butcher and the baby like a mixture between meat and human. I like leaving a painting open for interpretation. To me, it’s not just about being sinister…but also about having a sense of dark humour. A painting as a form of spectacle needs a little of both.
Clare: Do you have a practice of drawing? If so, what are your preferred materials and surfaces? And how often and where do you draw?
Julia: I always was envious of artists who had a good drawing practice and kept sketchbooks of ideas. Because my paintings were developing directly on the canvas and were in a constant state of flux, I could never have preparatory sketches. But I forced myself to draw anyway, copying things like photos and paintings, to train my eye and improve my technical skills. Now, after a couple of years, it has become my necessary morning routine. I have my morning tea and draw for at least an hour before the day has begun. I can now say that I formulate ideas for paintings by trying out some relationships between figures or ideas for environments. But I am never interested in transcribing a drawing into a painting. Once I have seen it on paper I do not care to repeat it on the canvas.
Clare: What can you tell us about your colour palette? Are there any colours you cannot do without? Do you use black or do you mix other colours to make the shadowy scenes?
Julia: I like using different blues like Phthalo, Ultramarine and Prussian Blue. I am also very fond of Phthalo Green. I like its acidic quality seen in film lighting. I have created a lot of green, blue and turquoise paintings, as those colours create a specific mood. And yes, recently I have started using a lot of black as well. However, I have never bought a tube of black. I always mix it myself. I like to experiment between different colour temperatures. That’s when the umbers and ochres become indispensable.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Julia: I never work without a cloth rag. It has become as important as the brush. It gives me so much freedom to wipe away and start again. I love the good hardware store rags, or an old towel. I also have become accustomed with a brush stand. I use a lot of different brushes and try not to dip them in different colours. It can be a pain at the end of the day to clean them, but this way the colours in the painting never get muddy. I believe in good work etiquette. It can go a long way.
Clare: How has the lockdown of the last few months affected your practice?
Julia: We have moved to Poland’s countryside to be with family. I had to start a brand new studio in a garage. It always takes some time to find a rhythm in a new space. But I think painting is one of those professions where we are used to sitting in isolation for a long time. Most of us have been more productive than ever! But I miss going to see art with my friends. And so many things have been cancelled, closed and postponed, so we are left in viewing virtual exhibits.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Julia: As mentioned before, the Baroque masters such as Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt and Artemisia Gentileschi have had a big influence on my most recent paintings. However, contemporary figurative painters like Justin Mortimer, Neo Rauch, Tilo Baumgärtel, and Kaye Donachie inspire me on how to create a mysterious narrative. They are exceptional in letting the viewer fill in the blanks.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Julia: It feels so good when things in a painting come together. It can be magic. This can happen at any time. A painting can flow easily right from the start and all decisions are spot on. But sometimes, the struggle with a work can be never ending. Wiping, repainting, re-wiping and so on…bordering on the verge of madness. I used to think that the easy days are my favourite. It sure feels like that in the moment, but looking back I think that the paintings I have wrestled with the most have been my favourites. In the end, I like to leave the studio excited for the next day. Depending on my mood, my family knows right away if I have had a good day in the studio…
Clare: Can you tell us where we can see more of your work online or in the flesh?
Julia: My solo show in Poland “Maskarada” at the Muzeum Ziemi Miedzyrzeckiej was meant to open November 14th 2020, but due to Covid all cultural events were shut down. It’s planned to open in the Spring 2021. My London gallery School Gallery is also planning my solo show in the UK for Spring 2021. Unfortunately, Covid has left us guessing on specific dates at this point.
Submissions for Jackson’s Painting Prize 2021 will open on Tuesday 1st of December, 2020. Find out everything you need to know at our competition website and sign up to our competition newsletter and receive the latest updates about Jackson’s Painting Prize.