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Behind the cover: Julia Pomeroy

Julia Pomeroy is a multidisciplinary artist from London capturing the unguarded state of mind. Following her artist-in-residence position at East Street Arts’ Patrick Studios, Pomeroy talks with friend Meg Firth about channelling universal feelings of loneliness and isolation in her psychologically charged works of art.

Since school, Julia Pomeroy has always shown promise as a budding artist. She would sit contentedly crosslegged in the playground, drawing animals while footballs and kids raced past her: “We had a great teacher in Year 6 who let our PE lessons be a bit of a free for all,” Julia reminisces. “I’d sit with a sketchpad and this encyclopaedia full of animals. I loved the textures and colours of the furs and skins.”

A strong appreciation and awareness for texture and colour are ever-present in Julia’s bodies of art. She transforms large canvases into bold, vibrant scenes of the everyday. Exploring how colour and light interact together, Pomeroy constructs subtle narratives in the relatable scenes she paints. With broad yet delicate brush strokes, Pomeroy captures the energies of contemporary figures and the spaces they occupy. “How we have evolved as a society and our reactions to the everyday is fascinating,” Julia muses. “I get easily lost in questioning whether my work is contemporary enough or responsive to hard-hitting themes, but I think it’s just as important to analyse our everyday introspections.”

“I love to see people lost in their own worlds"

Themes relating to introspection, comfort and loneliness underpin Pomeroy’s paintings. With layering bursts of vibrant marks, Pomeroy situates contemporary figures within psychologically charged spaces. The scenes are relateable and familiar, with unarmed states of mind at the forefront. “I love to see people lost in their own worlds,” Julia admits with an affectionate smile.

“I like the contrast of people being occupied both physically and mentally, and contextualising it with the external world. Their immediate environment feels like a safe space where they are allowed to get lost in their thoughts and not have to socially perform. I like to capture people on that boundary - they’re not paying attention to me as an onlooker and they feel comfortable in their environment.”

This refreshing optimism helps recalibrate the way we perceive the often monotonous and mundane scenes of everyday life. Pomeroy transforms someone staring at their phone into a vibrant display of self-comfort, candid beauty and introspection. The way she marries colour and light celebrates these social comforts and the relationships we develop within both public and private realms.

Part of Julia’s work process is to photograph a candid, everyday moment that resonates with her. Here, she captures friends in deep conversation, a stranger casually rolling a cigarette, a bored mind lazing in their home. Her artworks migrated from the public realm into the private confines of her subjects’ homes in response to the covid national lockdowns. These works communicate the collective sense of detachment we all experienced and inspire an underlying conversation surrounding mental health, loneliness and isolation.

“Before the pandemic, I painted scenes of the shared pleasures we experience together in a celebration of social comforts and relationships. When we were in lockdown,” Julia continues, “my paintings became about readjusting to life within walls. The pandemic messed up my initial appreciation for looking at figures in the contemporary world. The facade of knowing what we’re doing became twisted with the lockdowns.”

Being bored and unstimulated as a population is what inspired Pomeroy’s most recent exhibition at Sunny Bank Mills: ’Collective Isolation’. Created during Pomeroy’s 6-month awarded residency at Patrick Studios, the works in this series encapsulate the restriction of lockdowns: they migrate from exploring outdoor spaces in sunny towns to being restricted to the confines of our homes. “It made sense to pinpoint this challenging time through the series and depict how life is when we’re unable to live freely,” Julia explains.

Being awarded a studio space to explore her practice (first at Sunny Bank Mills in the winter of 2020, then Patrick Studios in the New Year) was invaluable to Pomeroy, who was used to working from the kitchen table or her bedroom. With national lockdowns taking away access to university studio spaces during her final year, Pomeroy found herself determined to complete her 2-meter tall degree show painting in the back alley of her student house.

Despite these unconventional circumstances, Julia graduated from Leeds Arts University with a first and her name on many ‘Ones To Watch’ radars. Being from London, and having completed her foundation year at City & Guilds of London Art School, it would be tempting for Julia to move back to the Big Smoke following many of her peers. Yet, Julia believes that there is a “cultural wave” happening in Leeds, and she’s keen to evolve her practice in a city where “collaboration and kindness” is valued.

“I love the close-knit communities in Leeds; there is a different variation of creative on every corner. You can go to Old Red Bus Station just for a dance and discover a new artist with their work on the wall, or go to Hyde Park Book Club for a coffee and see who the Art Club [HPAC] is exhibiting. The arts scene in Leeds is not very prominent - it’s all very DIY and under-the-radar. But it’s exciting seeing new galleries being established - like Screw Gallery - representing artists in a professional way aside from temporary pop-up exhibition spaces.”

Julia is very much a part of this new ‘cultural wave’ of artists blossoming in the city. With Leeds Arts University, Beckett University and the University of Leeds all offering Art courses, it’s inevitable that Leeds has become a petri dish for aspiring young artists away from the white cube galleries of London.

Julia is quick to spotlight her friends and peers who are practising their craft in the city: “Will Fise and I used to paint for hours together in our shared studio space at uni - his paintings are astounding.”

“I always love Hugh Robert’s mural work the way he combines screenprinting, painting and typography on a canvas.”

“Luci Pina has just started a residency at East Street Arts and her illustration style is so confident. I get jealous looking at her work!”

It’s no doubt that Julia Pomeroy is going to excel in her craft as she continues to navigate her path as a professional artist. She talks excitedly about exploring other disciplines, such as sculptures and installations, before eventually moving back to her roots in London.

With the world reopening, it’s exciting to see what collective mood Julia will capture next with her empathetic and timeless style.

Words by Meg Firth

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