MUSEUM

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EST. 2018

In Conversation with Julia Do

 "Blind Ambition" by Julia Do.

Oil Paint, on stretched canvas.

Interior art for the Canvas Autumn 2019 issue.

Below is discussion between Canvas Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Herko and Autumn 2019 interior artist Julia Do.

OPENING REFLECTIONS

Looking at "Blind Ambition" I am struck by several things. First—that young woman appears to be bear—from what we can see she looks presented in extreme in vulnerability. The way the lines move in the piece seem to pull the viewer's concentration up to the hands that are covering her eyes, along the way though the lines of energy seem to triangulate upwards in her arms, while also opposingly pulling downwards through the neck and collarbone.  This gives me a sense of the force this human has as they choose to hold their eyes. The coloring of the piece also seems to comment on the heat sink that is the center of the human body, compared to the unknown space around it. I find it interesting as this girl holds her eyes, we are privy to a zone of her possibly peeking. We can wonder if that is her intention or just an auto-pilot move in the bones of her hand. It creates a tension for the viewer, either way. Many of us can relate to hiding our eyes from what is too much sensory information, or too frightening but then making a small window to peek and see if we can stand what's one the other side of our shield. 

 

I notice too how pale the girl's nose is, and that her lips pucker out.  It almost seems like she is not breathing in fully and puncturing her suspense by a slow mouth "o" of release. The hair slightly in motion or disarray, gives a sense of agency and maybe even chaos. The sharpness of her nails reflect both beauty and perfection of her possible aesthetic but that sharpness by her eyes haunts in that it could accidentally harm a tender part of her, if emotional life got too out of order. 

 

Pairing the title with the piece, allows a lot of readings to emerge from these impressions.

 

 

LINDSAY​

What did you want your viewers to take away from the title and the image?

 

JULIA​

 

My first conception of this image was rooted in the ideas of adolescence and identity. My mother studied the painting half-finished, and she told me only one word crossed her mind: khát vọng. It's Vietnamese for ambition (or literally, "thirst for a vision"). My mother is a poet, and as she described to me her interpretation of the piece, I realized that it was the same as my own. Young people have so much potential and so many people telling them they so much potential. The figure literally cannot see past herself—she purposely blinds herself to her surroundings so that she can focus solely on her endgame. Though the teen spirit is extremely driven and competitive (which can be good things!), I really do believe that we have forgotten how to simply be. It has been ingrained in my generation to excel at everything we do, to have big dreams, to go out and get them. We are so focused on figuring ourselves out that we forget to enjoy the world and the state that we're in. In the end, we are solely human, and isn't that enough?

 


LINDSAY​
 

What would you say the creation story of this piece was?  Did the concept come first or the image? What is your generative process like when it comes to creating things?


 

JULIA​

This piece was largely inspired by Henrik Aa. Uldalen’s work that I saw on Instagram. Immediately, I was struck by his portrayal of existentialism and fragile beauty, and I just had to apply these concepts in a way that related to me and experiences as a young person. A concept can come to me from a song lyric, a painting, or a line from a book, but oftentimes, simple introspection prompts me to put pen to paper or paint to canvas. Being a writer, I treat my art like metaphors—I try to ground an abstract idea with something concrete from my own life.

 

LINDSAY​

 

Are there things about this woman you know as her creator, that the audience would not? Do you find yourself ever coming up with backstories behind the figures in your art?


JULIA​

 

At first glance, people might not realize that this piece is a self-portrait. The central idea conveyed is adolescence, and there’s no teenager I’m more familiar with than myself. My favorite figures to paint are people from my everyday life—my friends and family. I think it’s really important to depict people, objects, and concepts that are personal to me because art really is such a personal process. I value representation a lot as well, and when people think of oil painters, they don’t necessarily see an Asian-American sixteen-year-old girl. I see art as a way to give the audience a glimpse into my life, to tell the stories of the people in it as well as my own.

 

LINDSAY​

 

What were the challenges of creating this work? Did you have any illuminations about your process or your trajectory as an artist while you were working on this piece?


JULIA​

 

Technically, the most difficult parts of the painting were the hands and lips. This was the third portrait I’ve ever attempted, and I experimented with a limited palette for this piece which was particularly challenging to evoke the right tone. I repainted the hands and lips over and over again because it was so difficult to create the right movement and emotion. This piece was purposefully and definitely a departure from my past work because I was trying to evoke a more mature tone that reflected not only the piece’s message but also my growth as an artist.

 

LINDSAY​

 

Can you tell us about your history becoming an artist?   Ideally, where would you like to go with your work? Are there any projects you are looking forward to?


JULIA​

 

I grew up valuing art because my parents surrounded me with it. I remember my favorite part of school being the art projects, and while most people stop finger painting and coloring after elementary school, I guess I just kept going. The stereotype is that Asian parents would never support an artist, but my mom is actually the one who suggested I study it seriously.  I’m now hoping to pursue both art and English in the near future, and having my own gallery and studio is the ultimate dream.

 

LINDSAY​

 

Do you have any artistic rituals to get into the space of creating art?


JULIA​

 

The two things I’m adamant about while creating are solitude and music. Art is a really personal process for me, so I actually end up painting in my bedroom a lot of the time at three A.M. with my earbuds in (this maybe isn’t the healthiest thing to do). I think a lot of creatives can relate to the feeling of being so completely consumed by their craft that they forget a world exists beyond their creative space.

 

LINDSAY​

 

 Does "Blind Ambition" have any peers in other art forms—songs, or films, etc., that echo the feelings you are trying to express?

JULIA


​​There’s actually a Spotify playlist I listen to every time I’m creating art. Some songs in particular that echo the feelings in “Blind Ambition” are “Smking to Dth” by Cyberbully Mom Club, “Tommy’s Party” by Peach Pit, and “Lavender Blood” by Fox Academy. I think the angst-y lyrics and hollow, almost ghostly, sound of all these songs reflect that adolescent struggle to figure out themselves and the world around them. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Edge of Seventeen, and Ladybird are some films that also depict the struggle to “come of age”. Each narrative follows a young protagonist trying to understand what they want from the world—and themselves—before ultimately realizing that they must accept and enjoy each moment at a time.

 

LINDSAY​

 

Do you have any advice to other teens who are looking to express themselves as artists?


JULIA​

 

Put a piece of yourself into everything you create, and strive to see art in the world all around you. 

 

LINDSAY​

 

What would you like your peers to ask you? What would you like an older generation to ask you?

 

 JULIA​

 

I think I would like my peers to ask me why I create. Everyone needs art, and I really do believe that visual expression has been withheld from us in exchange for formulas, rhetoric, and diagrams. There is something so humanist, magical, and unadulterated about picking up a brush and putting down your thoughts, your ideas, your emotions. Likewise, I would like an older generation to ask me about today’s youth, to ask me what makes Gen Z so beautiful? Though we are far removed from those romanticized black and white photographs of poodle skirts and malt shops, or those polaroids of flared jeans and fringe, there is something so enduring, so deeply and innately beautiful about the adolescent condition itself. So we might order poke bowls off of UberEats, spend hours on TikTok and hundreds of dollars on a hunk of smart metal, at the core of our experiences is still the struggle to become—to relish in the moment and realize our potential.

 

 

 

Songs Julia mentions:

I would like an older generation to ask me about today’s youth, to ask me what makes Gen Z so beautiful? Though we are far removed from those romanticized black and white photographs of poodle skirts and malt shops, or those polaroids of flared jeans and fringe, there is something so enduring, so deeply and innately beautiful about the adolescent condition itself. So we might order poke bowls off of UberEats, spend hours on TikTok and hundreds of dollars on a hunk of smart metal, at the core of our experiences is still the struggle to become—to relish in the moment and realize our potential.

Julia Do is a junior at La Quinta High School in Westminster, California. She is a self-taught oil painter and writer of both prose and poetry. She participated in the 2019 Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and loves Wes Anderson. When not writing or painting, she can be found crying over physics homework.

Artist Instagram:

 

https://www.instagram.com/nichehotel/

https://www.instagram.com/yourschewy/