How does a person go from pottering with paint at home to landing some of the city’s biggest art commissions? We’ve met Julie Andrews in Chancery Lane to find out. El Gordo Café serves proper pot tea for the occasion, but that’s not the only draw card in meeting here. Just outside the café door is one of Bendigo’s best loved works of street art, painted by Julie in 2014. “I remember the sensation of painting it,” she says. “This circle was the width of my arm.”
Julie is photographed here in front of the work. It’s a beautiful example of her signature style of blurred, tonal circles, developed during her years in the La Trobe studios studying a Bachelor of Visual Arts (2010-12). “I was trying to do something different, but I also had lots of references to others,” she says on her early uni years. “When I started I was more traditional and that’s not unusual for people going into art school. Uni made me question what my art was about and what I wanted it to become.”
Fast forward to today and it’s become part of the fabric of Bendigo, a sort of protective, calming layer. Julie has just completed painting the mural ‘Field of Possibilities’ in the Centre for Non Violence foyer, her work featured during White Night last month and last year she unveiled a 14 x four metre mural at the Bendigo Hospital. “That was fantastic,” she says of the latter. “I worked every day from morning to dusk for five weeks. I lost 10 kilos in the process!”
Julie describes her career path as “up and down and eclectic”. Case in point; she was fresh from completing a Masters in Analytical Psychology at Western Sydney University when she decided to add ‘artist’ to the mix. The two fields may seem at odds until you learn the scientific subject emphasizes the importance of the personal quest for wholeness. Hence Julie’s goal to pursue a life-long love.
Throughout a working life that includes human resources, education and training, project management and personality testing, making art was steadily, quietly part of Julie’s personal life. Sometimes it took the form of gardening or sewing, sometimes “making mess” in her shed-cum-studio.
Despite having taught project management at various universities around the state, Julie looked to her local La Trobe campus to fulfill her creative goals. “I wanted to be in the community I was making art in and I wanted friendships and relationships with other artists in the community,” she says.
Julie came to Bendigo from Melbourne with her husband and two young children in 1980 partly due to the creative community. She loved the Bendigo Art Gallery – long before it became the go-to regional space – and she missed the light and fresh air of home. Julie was originally from here and had wonderful memories growing up as one of seven kids in a tiny terrace in Forest Street.
She had a great job in the city working as an educator for government departments, but it wasn’t enough. “We did some mapping around what our needs and desires were and we listed all the things we wanted for our children, our fulfilment, our ideal environment, and as we wrote our list, it became about Bendigo,” she says, and so the Andrews family found home in a mudbrick house in Maiden Gully.
At first Julie worked as the HR manager for the defence surveying department at Fortuna Villa before returning to education and training and then lecturing at universities. She laughs it’s probably what pushed her to be creative.
Julie says one of the highlights of her degree was the six months she spent on exchange in England. “That was tremendous. It was wonderful and I came back with a real buzz and a good dose of confidence.” She’d advocate for any student to take the same opportunity to travel.
Another milestone was her first exhibition experience during the graduate show. The first of many. Julie says the course prepared her for a studio practice which has so far resulted in over 20 solo exhibitions and 30 group shows around Australia.
Towards the end of the three-year course Julie started exploring the idea of art in liminal spaces and the feelings this provokes.
The www provides an eloquent description of liminal spaces, being “If you feel that you are anxiously floating in the in between perhaps you are in the liminal space. The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin word limens, which means threshold. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.”
“The sort of space we feel but don’t have the language to describe,” Julie says. Like the once dark and empty entrance to Chancery Lane.
Julie noticed the space and approached the owner of the building and the City of Greater Bendigo with her idea to fill it. The work she painted formed part of the Masters of Public Art she completed at RMIT after the La Trobe course.
The qualification has been Bendigo’s gain. “Often the response to public art is to make it pop, make it on trend, bright and exciting. But doesn’t the commercial world already provide enough bling?” Julie asks. “My work’s quite subtle – it’s something to gently notice, to contemplate or set a mood. My work provides a more reflective space, full of possibility for people to make of it whatever they like.”
For Julie, much of the meaning is in the making. A prime example is the work she and a team created for Enlighten, the projection art festival shown before and alongside White Night. Julie’s muted film of walking figures played out across the Bendigo Library.
To create it, 80 people turned out on the coldest day of June to walk the Bendigo creek while Julie and a film crew filmed them. “They just came and did it as an act of kindness and that’s what I loved,” she says. “They did it so that others were able to see our community.”
Art aside, Julie’s job titles continue to be eclectic. As she chats she’s on her lunch break from a contract role at the City of Greater Bendigo on a number of projects, including assisting the Greater Creative Strategy team.
“I have to find a way to supplement my art and I think that’s preferable to making work that’s a commodity, where you might lose what you love,” she says. She encourages today’s creative arts students to likewise be prepared to get creative with making a living.
“It’s incredibly difficult to survive as an artist without an income. Everything you do costs money. Exhibitions cost money, paint costs money, it costs to have your work photographed and promoted. Artists by their nature are giving people and you can get depleted.” So, why do it? Why give up years to arts education, endless hours in the studio, or in Julie’s case, on the street, reaching, ever reaching… “Because you think it matters,” she says.