Julie York is an Assistant Professor of Visual Arts and Material Practice at Emily Carr University, where she teaches in the Ceramics Department. She grew up in the Vancouver area, beginning her studies with David Lloyd at Kwantlen College and graduating from Emily Carr Institute. She received her MFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred and subsequently held fellowships and residencies at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia and at the International Ceramic Research Centre, Guldagergaard, in Skaelskor, Denmark. Her work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions across the United States. In 2007, she was awarded the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts, which enabled her to focus intensively on new studio work.York thinks of herself primarily as a sculptor who works with clay and other materials. Using an essentially industrial process, slip-casting, she often submerges her forms in baths of water or mineral oil, or she encases them in boxes reminiscent of commercial display. Early in her career, she cast forms such as dolls, mannequins and other objects associated with feminine culture. Her more recent work utilizes a formal vocabulary based on anonymous, abstract or industrial objects. Her family was in business manufacturing health and beauty products, an industry in which artfully designed packaging and effective display are paramount. York recalls working on an assembly line in the family establishment. Responding to the repetition, organized chaos and what she calls the “amalgamated piles” of objects found in manufacturing, she developed fabricating skills with rubber, plastic, glass and metal, which she combines with the cast clay.
York’s interest in industrial materials often takes her to scrap yards in search of interesting new forms. She is particularly alert to the impact humans make on the natural world. Travelling in China, she researched contemporary ceramic manufacturing sites such as Fuping rather than historical centres of handmade ceramics such as Jingdezhen. Her focus on industrial forms and use of slip-casting ensure a strong resonance between the conceptual core of her work and the materials and processes with which she manifests her ideas.Working originally in white earthenware, she shifted recently to porcelain, which she sands and polishes at the bisque stage prior to its final fire. In this way, she produces satiny surfaces that appear industrial yet vulnerable. Earlier work was left white and unglazed in order to emphasize form, but recent work makes use of both sugary, pastel glazes and coloured clay. York often presents her work on the wall in boxes and circular “peeps” as a means to reference painting, an enduring interest of hers. She works with aspects of perception, challenging concepts of “normal” by introducing elements that handicap sight. Viewers are forced to struggle slightly and to question what exactly they are seeing. She fronts her containers with plastic lenses that distort what lies behind; the appearance of the interiors change as the viewer moves across them. The theatricality of this presentation engages the body of the viewer, encouraging interaction and personal engagement.
Her most recent work, reflectionnoitcelfer, exhibited at the Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia in 2010, represents a new and exciting direction for the artist. Rather than encasing or submerging her forms, she incorporates them into tableaus reminiscent of seventeenth-century Dutch still life vanitas paintings. The individual works incorporate domestic forms resembling bowls, salt cellars and table sculptures arranged on staggered wooden platforms. Curved sheets of stainless steel back these seemingly simple arrangements, confounding vision and perception. The objects are imperfectly reflected in the steel’s mirror-like surface, creating dynamic and complex assemblages that speak compellingly to the passage of time, materiality and the body.
Julie York’s work with a range of materials expands the ceramic dialogue. Her lecture on Wednesday, October 13 will discuss the trajectory of her artistic career and her ongoing efforts to marry concept with process and form. Her lecture is free and open to the public, and we look forward to seeing you there.