October 19, 2023
SALIFE Absolute Best Awards

Keep making: Julia Robinson has a lot in store

With this year’s Absolute Best Awards looming, we check in with one of last year’s winners, artist Julia Robinson, whose work is beautiful, macabre and popping up interstate and overseas.

Julia Robinson

Portrait of Julia Robinson at Hugo Michell Gallery, 2022, Photo Sam Roberts

The winner of last year’s Absolute Best South Australian Artist award, Julia Robinson, is not afraid to tackle taboo topics in her art.

“My work is based on folklore and mythology, but deals with human themes around sex and death, life and death,” explains Julia, “and big human themes like darkness and light, rebirth and regeneration.”

“I really love working with beautiful materials and making beautiful things that have a bit of an undercurrent to them.

“I grew up on the Brothers Grimm fairy tales and Roald Dahl’s dark versions of stories; I’ve always had a kind of macabre twist to my practice.”

Her textile-based sculptures and installations have a growing fan base and are making their way into public and private collections nationally.

The Art Gallery of South Australia purchased two installations, Legs eleven (2010) and Beatrice (2020) via its Contemporary Collectors and Adelaide Biennial Ambassadors programs.

Julia also has pieces in the collections of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Federal Government’s Artbank, which hires out work by Australian artists for display in businesses and private homes.

She says, “occasionally Artbank will post on social media and be like – ‘Here’s a Julia Robinson in an office space’,” but mostly she’s unaware of who shares her wicked sense of humour and welcomes her art into their space.

Beatrice, silk, thread, felt, steel, brass, gold-plated copper, foam, cardboard, pins, fixings, overall installation approx. 300 x 400 x 300cm, 2019-2020, Photo Sam Roberts. All images courtesy the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery

Represented by Hugo Michell Gallery since 2019, she does know there is a small, decidedly keen audience in her hometown.

“There’s a couple of collectors who return to my work repeatedly. Artists don’t necessarily have a lot of contact with the collectors – it’s managed by the gallery. But I do know from meeting some people who have my works, a lot of them seem to be Adelaide based.”

“But you know, Hugo is someone who takes his artists to Sydney Contemporary art fair and other important events. He invests in artists and builds their audience over time. So, I just hand myself over to his plan, the gallery team’s plan, and just trust that we’ll take this journey together.”

In recent times, Julia’s dark undercurrent has been “dialled up” as she’s leaned into her favourite themes. This past year, she has been focused on creating and preparing for two exhibitions that are opening soon.

The first Eerie Pageantry opens at City Gallery in Wellington at the end of this month. It includes selected works from her 2022 major solo show The Beckoning Blade plus eight new pieces, together with work from the late Don Driver, a New Zealand artist who dealt with similarly confronting ideas. It runs through to mid-February next year.

The second is a group show at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in Melbourne, From the other side, which opens this December.

Sour ground, linen, thread, scythe handle, fork and chain, steel, fixings, 120 x 130 x 25cm, 2023, Photo Sam Roberts

As well, she’s been collaborating with the Curator of Contemporary Art at AGSA Leigh Robb, author Hannah Kent, and artist, writer and educator Jessica Taylor on a 2024 SALA Festival feature artist monograph on her work. And there’s an accompanying solo show at Adelaide Central Gallery – “I’m planning a big installation for that,” she teases, without giving a hint of what’s planned.

Julia’s alma mater, the nationally-regarded Adelaide Central School of Art, has been pivotal in her professional and personal life.

“I left art school feeling like I was absolutely ready to be an artist and to have a go at this particular profession, despite all its potential difficulties or pitfalls,” she shares.

“My husband, Roy Ananda, is also an artist, and we met at art school and married a few years out.”

They both lecture at the school and have been for around 20 years, helping to nurture upcoming talent in a city that she herself finds “wonderful and supportive”.

“I feel like Adelaide punches well above its weight. It’s a really strong art scene here. It’s powerful, there’s great people, and it’s a really strong art community.”

This year’s Absolute Best Awards will take place on Thursday, December 7 and Julia is eager to see who will be acknowledged in the category of South Australian Artist of the Year.

“Last year I was nominated alongside Margaret Ambridge and Daryl Austin, who are two good friends and also phenomenal artists. It was tough competition, but great to be up sharing that award nomination with them. So, let’s see who comes up this year.”

Her win last year was a pleasing accolade made better by the recognition coming from her hometown. “The art school, who nominated me for it, were just so thrilled.”

Meanwhile, with preparations for SALA and more work with Hugo Michell Gallery coming up, Julia says her plans for the future are simple and clear.

“Keep making is always my goal. Keep making.”

Don’t miss the 2023 SALIFE Absolute Best Awards ceremony at the Adelaide Festival Centre and glamorous after-party under the stars.

There’ll be wines flowing from Bird in Hand, craft beers from Vale Brewing and a gin bar courtesy of 23rd Street Distillery.

Enjoy fabulous finger food and design from Out In The Paddock, plus entertainment that will keep the party vibes going late into the night.

Tickets include entrance to the award ceremony and after party, including all food and drinks.

Tickets are limited, so book yours now.