Interviews | January 30, 2023 |

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Image courtesy of Ju Underwood

Interview: Ju Underwood
Luca Curci
talks with Ju Underwood during the 16th Edition of VENICE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2022, at Palazzo Bembo.

Ju Underwood began her career as an architect and learned a determined sense of focus and discipline from the rigorous training of the profession. She worked as an architect for many years before quitting in order to study fashion design. She gained a first-class honours degree and moved on to a Masters’s course. It was at this point that she began to experiment with other media, including film and music, and her work crossed over into the realms of fine art. She has had a lifelong fascination with the psychological and philosophical, aspects of human existence, and her works derive from this. She is inspired by those artists and thinkers who bridge the gap between Thought and Art. Her starting point is the study of emotional abstraction and exchange. She is intrigued by the hidden codes and communications of our lives.

She has lived in many places in the world and has immersed herself in the local culture as much as possible each time, in order to try to understand and learn from different ways of life. She prefers an experiential approach to the world. Moving from place to place has never been planned, but it has happened organically as a product of her personal philosophy. At this point in history, it seems more critical than ever to examine, and be compassionate towards, people’s states of mind, and to try to find ways to inspire self-awareness and well-being. The current focus of her practice is to combine visual art with spiritual, philosophical writings in a meaningful way that imparts value to the world. She hopes to be able to connect with people, by contemplating commonplace human issues that are often overlooked or not addressed, such as everyday anxiety, that can prevent people from feeling at one with themselves and the environment. Her aim is to use her art process as a vehicle to commence dialogues about emotional well-being, based on introspection.

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Image courtesy of Ju Underwood

Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Ju Underwood –
Art functions as a means of extracting emotional volumes from myself that are impossible to put into words. I am a hyper-emotional person and without my art practice, there would be no outlet for these sensitivities. When I try to articulate them in words I tend to confuse and disorientate other people, so I stopped attempting to do that many years ago and channelled that energy into my art process instead. In a lot of ways Art for me is a saviour of sanity, and a way to position me in the world, without having to tackle the impossible task of defining myself.

LC – What are you currently working on?
JU –
Over the past few years I’ve been working on several series of work in a small scale, draft ideas so to speak, relating to my themes as described above. Currently, I’m interested in delving deeper into the physical side of producing these works, changing scale, materials, and means of production to find ways to intensify the emotional quality of the work, and give it more power and resonance for the viewer.
I’m also working on a new series of paintings, supported by parallel philosophical writings. The intention is to assimilate the point of connection between art and life, which will perhaps lead to the initiation of a fresh, more direct work approach.

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Image courtesy of Ju Underwood

LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject, if there is any?
JU –
I constantly aim to strip away the ego and uncover something eternal behind it, similar to the way that impressionists such as Monet, one of my great inspirations, captured moments in time without judgement or a moral overlay. I’m searching for a simple approach made of elemental, binary-like codes and patterns, which is why my work is often layered and repetitive, actively avoiding referencing anything real. My other consistent theme is expansiveness, which is why my paintings often resemble mountains or seas, even though I don’t set out to paint anything from reality. The elements in my work are not real, they emanate directly from the mind. I create imaginary “scapes” where space seems endless, we see the horizon, and though we have arrived at the limit of our vision or imagination, the work suggests that there is more beyond that point.

LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
JU –
My works express emotional content. The process functions a little like the automatic writing practised in the early 20th Century by Charles Dickens, and Arthur Conan Doyle amongst others, in that I guide the realisation of the works rather than direct them into being. They are a kind of therapy for me, and people have mentioned that they inspire peacefulness, and serenity and act to quiet the heart and mind. This resonates with my greater goal, which is to inspire and help others who may be struggling with their identity and confidence. I regard each work as a talisman or totem, an image one can contemplate over a period of time, which inspires introspection and self-reflection.

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Image courtesy of Ju Underwood

LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
JU –
I read extensively, both fictional, and academic or intellectual works. I find clues to my philosophy in the text, and small details can spark an idea for my work. I’m particularly drawn to sci-fi writing. The freedom a sci-fi writer has to explore philosophies without the limitations of having to adhere to real-world scenarios is something I find endlessly fascinating, and I try to emulate this emancipation from the real world in my work. In a lot of ways, my work acts as a counterpoint to realism. Every element in it is a fabrication designed to suggest an idea or emotion. Even the parts that look like elements from reality are in fact artefacts from my mind. Other artists who share points of philosophy that seem to have a connection with my own are also great sources of inspiration. Recently I’ve been looking at the series of huge works Cao Guo-Qiang created for The Prado in 2017. His process, using gunpowder and pigments, is so violent, and potentially dangerous, but the resulting works are breathtakingly beautiful and delicate. It’s these kinds of contradictions that interest and provoke me.

LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the exhibition’s theme?
JU –
The Asian philosophy of eshō funi “the oneness of all things” is the foundation for how I approach my creativity. Environment, people, the mind, and the body are interconnected in my work, each one acts upon the other to create cycles of energy that I aim to harness. I am extremely sensitive to environments and people. This hails from what I term hypersensitivity to the subtext of a situation, which I ascribe to being acutely observant of tiny details that most people miss. I also suffer from an overabundance of empathy that, over the years, I’ve realised not everyone shares. My art practice has emerged as a product of my interaction with my immediate habitat, and community, as I seek to unravel these responses to the stimuli of the environment. While I work I aim to connect with something about the human spirit that is infinite, and beyond the physical world. I believe that cultivating of this potential we all have allows me greater awareness of my surroundings, and I hope to inspire that sensation in others through my work.

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Image courtesy of Ju Underwood

LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this event? How is it connected to the theme of the entire exhibition?
JU –
My message is that the realm of our immediate material consciousness is not the only world we inhabit. Our lives also comprise infinite hidden, sensory worlds, which are equally valuable to our state of being. Often we are so preoccupied with dealing with our place in the physical world that we do not take time to examine any other aspect of our existence. The purpose of my work is to provoke introspection, to give the viewer license to pause, and allow awareness of a larger range of experiences than they may have been engaging with on a daily basis.

LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
JU –
It’s an excellent professional platform for showcasing work across the internet and social media. The team offer a high level of service for artists and seem to have fine-tuned the process to run seamlessly.

LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us?
JU –
Now that I’ve had the experience of working with ITSLIQUID I would certainly suggest a collaboration. I feel I’m in a position to give any artists who ask an overview of what ITSLIQUID has to offer.

LC – What do you think about our services?
JU –
I’m impressed by the range of promotion on offer for each project, website, individual interviews, social media presence etc, as well as the extent of the ongoing programme of exhibitions taking place in major art hubs across the world. It’s a very good opportunity for artists to show work and make connections.

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Image courtesy of Ju Underwood
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Image courtesy of Ju Underwood
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Image courtesy of Ju Underwood

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