Julia Trybala - solo show
08 JUNE – 29 JULY 2022
When I visit Julia in her new studio for the first time, I am excited by the leap in scale from her previous space. It is a large, long, rectangular brick shed in the lush backyard of her home in the outer rim of suburban Melbourne. Julia has built segments of white wall to work on between brick pillars of the shed, rotating paintings throughout our visit to adjust to the changing light, and to observe how different colors and compositions sit side by side; some make a hot couple, others sit in opposite corners of the room glaring at each other over the rims of their wine glasses. These white walls only go halfway down the space though, and the rest sits empty for now, with a few bits and pieces lying around, evidence of life outside Julia’s exuberant studio world.
In contrast, the swollen subjects of the paintings she has made for Arch take up all of the space they can possibly get — silky curves bulging against the edges of the canvas as if they are about to outgrow themselves. There is something Baroque about this body of work, which swirls and flashes and threatens to pour out of the frame like colorfully pigmented viscera. The bodies appear on stage, under spotlight, caught in the middle of private performances. I want to call them abject but they are not. Pervy perhaps? Standing in front of their chiaroscuro drama, I feel something tug at my gut as though an ex has just walked into the room, or maybe a crush. Like typically Baroque painting, they provoke an affective whirl, clockable corporeally.
n Lizard Queen an iridescent, interspecies form folds into an arch, simultaneously framing and consuming the picture plane. The body, or bodies (as is often indistinct in Julia’s work) twist and drape like braided fabric. Ass bared, they could be flirtatiously presenting to me, or turning their back as if to shy away. Further along the arch, a reptilian eye peers over the figure’s shoulder, curious and bashful. Although many of the figures in Julia’s new work are ambiguous, metamorphic, and fluid — eye-to-eye with this explicitly non-human eye, I recognise them as somewhat monstrous. The monster is hybrid and unintelligible, much like the bodies in Spotlight and Toes in the mud, which wrap around and through each other, merging in places and emerging ambivalent over their separateness or togetherness. The monster here is not the monster under your bed but monstrous as in magnificent, irregular, incoherent.
Behind the figure of Lizard Queen, a deep, leathery, opaque purple covers about two thirds of the composition like a heavy stage curtain. I wonder whether it is ascending or descending, to reveal or obstruct the washes of warm, glowy, foot-like forms poised below. Feet are a consistent motif throughout all six paintings of this body of work. They appear along the bottom edges of the canvases, acting as a framing device, a base from which the paintings erupt. For bodies that are so entangled, so abnormal, and so at odds with up and down — the logic of feet at the base seems like a point of anchorage. Prior to visiting her studio, Julia sent me Georges Bataille’s The Big Toe (1929), in which he writes,
The division of the universe into subterranean hell and perfectly pure heaven is an indelible conception, mud and darkness being the principles of evil as light and celestial space are the principles of good: with their feet in the mud but their heads more or less in the light, men obstinately imagine a tide that will permanently elevate them, never to return, into pure space.
While the feet of Julia’s paintings remain in the mud, and the heads are for the most part closer to heaven, all the space in between is where the magic happens.
Upon our second studio visit many of the paintings were hardly recognisable to me. Julia is patient, and exhibits supernatural stamina when it comes to layering — continually adding, rubbing back, working over, wiping away, refiguring. The point at which one of Julia’s paintings is finished is an ambiguity only clarified by her. The arched shape I’d seen last time in Lizard Queen seems to have been a contagion to the other paintings. It presents differently within different works: an arch that is also a curtain made of fleshy folds in jeweled hues; the arch of rounded shoulders embracing, or leaning past one another, the arch of a back, a foot, a bent body; the arch of an old-fashioned keyhole. The latter, which Julia makes known through the work titled Keyhole, feels analogous to the body of work as a whole.
Julia describes a scene from Bataille’s Story of the Eye (1928), in which a character hides in a cupboard and urinates while watching an orgy through a keyhole. The image of an eye peering through a keyhole is a clichéd visual trope for the act of looking, or more specifically, looking where you shouldn’t. This act is always embedded in the encounter between a painting and a viewer, and is something that Julia attends to in her practice. A campy Baroque painting by Caravaggio comes to mind: Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1593-1594). In this work, an effeminate, youthful boy recoils as his finger is bitten by a lizard hiding amongst fruit. Glancing over his shoulder the viewer is struck with his gaze, the expression initially read as shock becomes more ambiguous, perhaps conveying a jouissance of sorts. It is not only in Lizard Queen that I find myself locking eyes — although this painting vibrates with Boy Bitten by a Lizard in more ways than one (i.e. reptiles, folds, rounded haunches, splayed fingers). Every painting in this body of work looks back, and in catching my gaze, renders my subjectivity as voyeur, the one who transforms the paintings from particularly private to pervy.
Text by – Clare Longley