Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?
Juliette Losq: I studied English Literature and Art History at Cambridge followed by an MA in Eighteenth Century British and French Art at the Courtauld Institute. I then studied Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Art and as a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Art.
RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?
JL: I would cite my previous studies as an influence. I often layer contemporary landscape imagery with stylised rococo forms in my work. My recent work is based on the construction of maquettes from which I then draw back – a practice that was embraced by eighteenth century French artists in rocaille design, where fantastical landscapes were created by drawing from arrangements of coral, plants, shells and mosses. Gainsborough also used a theatre-like construction called an Eidophusikon to paint from – he was able to create different atmospheres by manipulating lighting and using smoke.
RB: What is the underlying focus and vocabulary of your work?
JL: I tend to be drawn towards the overlooked and neglected. Creating intrigue from the mundane is something that fascinates me. The work draws on a long tradition of artists who turn to ruins as their subject-matter, and finds its antecedent in the Picturesque and Gothic movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Picturesque – though difficult to define – was broadly thought of as the antithesis of the Romantic genre with its broad, sweeping prospects. Instead it tended favour the refuge or bower, using framing devices to create a sense of enclosure. Its focus, like my own, was on the particular rather than the general: the crumbling wall, the foliate grove. I tend to focus on marginal, neglected corners, with a particular interest in overgrown post-industrial sites.
In common with artists associated with the eighteenth century Gothic, my work positions sites of contemporary ruination as places where the nefarious, sinister or unfamiliar may occur. Where once we may have expected Gothic ruins to be populated by night creatures and maniacal monks, scholars of “modern ruins”, such as Tim Edensor, associate them with the failure of Capitalism giving rise to spectres of a different kind. They become dens for children, refuges for suburban wildlife, and areas where criminality may occur. Cyphers of the passage of time, ruins embody the past and present at once whilst projecting a potential future. This changeability – both materially and emblematically – is what has attracted me to ruin sites so frequently in my work.
RB: How are your drawings made?
JL: The process references the building up of an etching plate. Working from the lightest to the darkest areas I apply layers of resist and ink, building up the image tonally in layers. Once the final layer of ink is applied all resist is removed, allowing the image to “develop”. The outcome resembles both primitive photography and etching, with the resulting image emerging from negative marks left by the resist. Subsequent detail layers are added to resolve the image to varying degrees, so that it hovers between stability and instability. In this way the technique forms a synergy with the fragility and ephemerality of the spaces depicted.
RB: Can you say something about the variety of processes that you use (both drawing and installation) and how they inform one another?
JL: The installations have evolved from a desire to convey the experience of these ruin sites to the viewer. They combine observations of the material and spatial qualities of the sites within an imaginative reconfiguration. I am able to manipulate space so that the drawn landscape becomes immersive, by creating recessed layers and those that flank or encircle the viewer. In a sense the layering of the installations is a continuation of the layering of ink and resist, and the layering of imagery that constitute the drawings.
RB: You incorporate imagery from a wide range of sources that result in works that border between the urban world and the wilderness, that implies the action of a human figure (in the structures incorporated) and yet the works are devoid of the human figure. Can you say something about this?
JL: In my earlier work I drew inspiration from Iain Sinclair’s writings on Psychogeography, such as Lights Out for the Territory. Like Sinclair I made walks through defunct industrial areas of London, imagining the lives of the people who had worked there.These places contain material traces of a past that is still within grasp, yet beyond common experience. What draws me to them is this opportunity for projecting an imagined history onto them, and the way that their current state presents an unsettling encounter between encroaching nature and the receding industrial structures.
RB: In terms of the viewer, what are you trying to communicate?
JL: What distinguishes sites of contemporary ruination from the ruins of the Picturesque is that they are rarely allowed to decline gracefully within the landscape. Whereas the ruins of previous eras have been designated as heritage sites, post-industrial sites are often perceived as eyesores or sites of potential real estate in need of redevelopment.
Through the process of making very detailed, and sometimes large-scale interpretations of these sites I am in a sense preserving something that is considered unworthy of preservation. By referencing art history and embedding them within this pantheon of ruination I am drawing attention to their ephemerality whilst at the same time ‘fixing’ them at a particular moment of collapse / decay / decline.
RB: Can you say something about your work Proscenium?
JL: Proscenium is a large-scale, immersive installation based on an optical device called a Teleorama – a recessed paper structure comprising up to six layers. The Teleorama drew on Baroque theatre set design with its use of the coulisse and the vista to create a sense of space. It was able to represent multiple spaces and times simultaneously. Though based on real places, it became a fictional space through its construction – much like a stage set. The proscenium in a theatre can be considered a metaphorical construct separating the audience from the actors and their stage world: an intersection between the real and the imagined. The title seemed to fit with the formal qualities of the installation itself, which extends the two-dimensional backdrop into three-dimensional space using trompe-l’oeil devices. I also felt there was something set-like about the ruin imagery that forms the subject of this piece. It’s a wooden structure found along a disused railway line in North London. This has now become a designated graffiti trail – an open-air theatre in which painted performances and battles are staged as the tags and designs replace each other on a weekly basis.
RB: How has your drawing process changed in the past years?
JL: I developed the layered process whilst studying at Wimbledon, in response to a short course on etching. Since then I have refined it to become increasingly detailed and complex. There is the potential to add infinite layers to a drawing, or to allow it to dissolve into the raw paper substrate. Achieving a satisfactory balance between these two things is a challenge with each piece.
This is, at heart, a mark-making practice (marks being made with resist) and increasing the scale of the drawings has effected a change in terms of the vocabulary and scale of the marks used. The larger the piece the more abstract this language of marks has become.
RB: What projects are you currently working on?
JL: I am currently working on a PhD based around the medium of the Teleorama.
I have a group show coming up at Galerie Arcturus in Paris and a solo presentation at the House of St. Barnabus in London. I’ll be showing in the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize in London in March and have a work touring with the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize.
All images copyright and courtesy of Juliette Losq
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