Axisweb artist of the Month: Abstract painter Julie Umerle on precision, chance and Gerhard Richter

By Lesley Guy | 10 December 2014

This month, abstract painter Julie Umerle tells us about drip painting, Gerhard Richter and galleries in her native US

A photo of an artist inside her brightly-lit studio surrounded by abstract paintings
Julie Umerle in her studio at The Fire Station, Acme Studios, London© Peter Abrahams
"I spend as much time as I can in the studio on a regular basis. It can vary from week to week, but I'm usually in the studio at least four days a week plus one day a week spent at home doing admin.

It really depends on what projects I am working on. But I do try to be structured, to keep in touch with what I'm doing there.

I think it's important to have a framework. I've always been a studio-based artist, so it's a special place for me and my work and it's where I really feel at home.

I've been practising as an artist for more than 30 years, working on paper as well as on canvas, in series that are often open-ended.

I've been through many phases with my work in that time, always abstract. When I first started painting I was exploring colour, gesture and composition; then geometry; then it was all about process. Right now I'm interested in mark-making and scale.

One of my pieces, Eclipse, has recently been acquired for the Priseman-Seabrook Collection. That painting encapsulates a particular moment in time.

When I have an idea for a series of work, I push that idea as far as I can. Then there comes a time to move on and, yes, you could see that piece as a turning point – moving on to add a little more control to the process and towards the 'drip' paintings that followed.

I'm an abstract painter; my paintings are a combination of precision and chance. I love working with paint, making it do different things and changing my goals and ambitions for the paintings from time to time just to keep it interesting.

One of my all-time favourite artists is Gerhard Richter, whose paintings I first saw in Berlin in 1991 and have seen many times since.

He is always inspiring. Lots of contemporary painters interest me and I watch to see what they're doing and how they develop.

There are a number of interesting painters working at the moment. Painting has had a real renaissance in recent years, particularly abstract painting, and is once again very current.

It's always exciting when this happens and painting becomes part of the discourse about contemporary art rather than being relegated to the margins.

Carla Busuttil, for example, who I met in 2008 at her degree show at the Royal Academy Schools, is an interesting painter.

There’s also Jacqueline Humphries, whose work has changed a lot since I first saw it in New York when her paintings were all red drips.

I came to the UK as a child when my family moved here from Connecticut. Then I returned to the US to pursue my MFA studies in New York in 1996 and spent a long period of time there after I graduated.

Over the next few months my paintings can be seen in group shows at Huddersfield Art Gallery, Ipswich Art Gallery, St Marylebone Crypt in London and Swindon Art Gallery.

There are far more galleries in the US than in the UK, but then again there are many more artists there too. Finding a gallery to suit your work is just as difficult, wherever you're based."

  • Julie Umerle’s work is in Contemporary British Painting (St Marylebone Crypt, London, until January 2 2015; Huddersfield Art Gallery, Huddersfield, until March 14); Paint Britain, Ipswich Art School Gallery, Ipswich, until March 8; Present Tense, Swindon Art Gallery, Swindon, January-April 2015. Visit her profile on Axisweb.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

An image of an abstract painting with small brown dots on a light green surface
Eclipse (2000). Oil and acrylic on canvas© Peter Abrahams
An image of an abstract painting featuring two halves of orange with black bits on them
Puja (2014)© Peter Abrahams
An image of an abstract painting featuring small black dots across an area of red
Red Strata (2012)© Peter Abrahams
An image of an abstract painting showing two black cloud-like figures on pink and blue
Drift (2013)© Peter Abrahams
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