In Conversation with Julz Beresford

OTOMYS is thrilled to introduce Australian painter Julz Beresford. Living and working in NSW, Julz’s immersive landscapes skilfully capture the complexity and mood of her surroundings. We sat down with Julz to learn more about her practice and the extraordinary ways in which she engages with the landscape.  
OTOMYS: Welcome to OTOMYS! We are thrilled to have you in our stable of artists. Firstly, we’d love to hear more about your journey as an artist and what attracted you to landscape painting.
Julz Beresford: After finishing high school, I went straight into art school, studying painting and print making at the Sydney College of Fine Art. Although I enjoyed print making, I was drawn to painting because it allowed me to experiment with colour. Print making is too rule based, and I appreciated the freedom that painting offered. I then travelled overseas, eventually landing in London where I stayed for 8 years. During this time, I kept painting, but I was never able to do it full time or work consistently within my own space or studio. Nevertheless, I kept going - I would paint wherever I could, working in my bedroom or the lounge room.
Four years ago, I finally committed myself to painting full time, allocating my garage as a studio space. This was a huge step for me, allowing me to really focus on my practice and become more prolific.
OTOMYS: Your paintings have such incredible layers of texture with areas of thick impasto strokes of paint. Can you tell us about your method and materials?
Julz Beresford: I work primarily with oil paint, and I really love it. Oil paint is such a fantastic medium to work with. The textures, colours, and creaminess of the paint is delicious. I was a food stylist for 20 years and so often the texture of the paint will remind me of my old line of work. Oil paint is an incredibly malleable and smooth medium to work with. I love how I can come back to the painting several days after I started it, as oil paint has such a slow drying time.
I tend to layer the paint, scraping the paint on at first before going in with thick strokes of pigment. I never paint directly from the tube – I always mix my own colours. The pallet and vibrancy of the Australian landscape is so unique, and I would not be able to capture it properly if I did not give such attention to my pallet.
I find that the tools I use are dependant of the landscape I am depicting. Sometimes I find that the landscape needs a brush, and sometimes I think it needs a pallet knife. I paint what the landscape is telling me. Whilst painting the watery and rocky bushland of the Hawkesbury River, the pallet knife became the forefront of my practice. The texture of the paint echoes the texture of the bush. The bush is pure texture. As you walk through the thick foliage, crumpling fallen gum leaves beneath your feet, disturbing red dust and dirt, the landscape imprints itself upon you. The landscape is something you can feel in more ways than one; whether I’m covered in dust or have scratches on my legs, the bush is a physical force. My use of paint is reflective of my journey through the landscape. When I paint landscapes like the bush, my paintings need to be full of texture, because the bush is pure texture. It is very intense to look at, and that’s when you focus on the light, shapes, colours – so uniquely Australian. This is why I respond so well to boating while working en plein air. It is a different way to experience the Australian bush.
OTOMYS: Working on the water is such a unique approach to the landscape. Can you tell us more about your process working on a boat?
Julz Beresford: We do have our own boat, but it’s too big for me to take out by myself. I hire a little tinny that I can take out on the water. I don’t live far from the Hawkesbury, so I can see what the weather conditions are like out on the water. I will usually stay out for half a day.
I avoid using oils on the boat because it is too messy. Instead, I bring gouache and paint on paper. I sketch with pure colour, completing multiple quick impressions of the land around me, feeling the shape of the bush and the bay.
When working en plein air you must be incredibly responsive to changing weather conditions. Although I tend to go out calmer days, I experience all kinds of weather. After a downpour the land is saturated with moisture, creating a dark and damp mood. One mood I particularly love capturing is the moment of calmness before a storm hits. Today is actually a great day to go out because the sky is grey, dulling the light and making everything moody.
I usually like going out early because the morning light creates an incredible tension between dramatic shadows and bright colours. I find the middle of the day can be a little too intense, with the midday sun over saturating the delicate complexities of the landscape.
The same location can change so drastically in different seasons, reflecting exciting new colours and light within the landscape. No matter the weather, however, I find every experience joyful. Whether it is the wind dancing on the surface or the reflection of shadowy trees creating patches of darkness in the water, the water is different every time I go out. The changes in the weather and influence it holds over the way we perceive the landscape is magical.
OTOMYS: Once you have completed your work outside, how much work do you do in your studio?
Julz Beresford: I complete many preparatory drawings outside, making instinctive gouache impressions of the landscape. The drawings will look different depending on the day that I have painted them; a still and sunny day will create a different pallet and mood compared to a gloomy wet day. When I am painting on the canvas with oils in my studio, I will refer to my drawings and reflect on those moments I spent outside. These drawings are visual representations of my memory within that moment. I pin these drawings up around my studio, so I can easily refer to them when I paint. These drawings will not be sold or shared; they are just for my reference. 
I know the water well and I know what it will be like. Sometimes you get surprised which is nice too, and I respond instinctively to these changes. Studio work is problem solving and is a different way of painting. The work I complete on the boat is a representation of what I see in the moment, whereas the canvas is a finished work that tells a story of the landscape and my journey within it.
I’ve recently renovated my studio to make it more hospitable during the cooler months. The garage was a roller door, so I would be working through freezing weather. I now have windows and a door, which has allowed me to spend longer hours working. It is interesting how having a different space can change your practice. Since finishing my work for my upcoming show, I have allowed myself time to play and experiment without the pressure of creating resolved works to exhibit. It is so important to have this time to evolve and uncover magic new directions. 
OTOMYS: I understand that many of your works were created along the Hawkesbury River and Sydney Coastline. What drew you to these specific locations? What personal/emotional connections do you have with these locations? Or do you find that as you paint a new understanding of the land and connection is created?
Julz Beresford: I pretty much love to paint everything, but with family life I’m not able to venture to faraway places at a whim. 
I definitely feel a connection to the water. I do a lot of walking with my husband through the bush and the Australian landscape and am constantly in awe of its beauty and complexity. Being on the water allows you to see the bush from a different perspective. You are not fully immersed within the foliage, but you are still within the environment.
I have travelled to many great places around Australia, however. I have previously completed a series of studies and body of work based on the Hunter Valley. I have also visited Hill End and Orange amongst many others. I grew up on a wheat farm, so I have a real connection to the country. Even when I was at college I painted the Hawkesbury River. I was often warned that it was dangerous to go there alone, considering the snakes and other wild animals that inhabited those areas, but I was drawn to it regardless. I developed a deep physical and artistic understanding of the environment.
Once of the most extraordinary landscapes I visited was the Northern Territory. I went with a group of artists, and we all struggled to make a start because we were so confronted by the profundity of the landscape. It was so different to what most of us had ever painted. It was interesting to see how different artists responded to the landscape; some painted the grand vistas of the red canyons, whereas I honed in on more intimate features of the landscape, observing how different colours interacted with each other.
It was the Heidelberg Impressionists that really started to see the Aussie landscape, embracing to its unique colours and textures. They were the first western artists that were truly present within the landscape.
Sometimes I will visit a place and discover that I do not want to paint there. Although these trips might seem like a waste of time, they’re the opposite, because I am uncovering new things about my practice and my connection to the landscape. I respect the moment and what I have learnt within it. This experience is a part of the journey and contributes to the story of the landscape. There is never a bad day, even if the painting doesn’t work. I am always moving forward and embrace new landscapes and new ways to paint.
OTOMYS: Painterly tradition is an important part of your practice, yet your work is also imbued with a modern fluidity and freshness. How have you reinterpreted painting traditions?
Julz Beresford: Having been trained at art school you have a technical understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong. I am constantly striving to improve my technical skills, which is one of the reasons why I have been painting so prolifically. I am not only trying to improve the way I paint, but also the way I capture the mood and essence of the landscape. Working as an artist teaches you to see things differently. I respond to different elements of the landscape that would ordinarily go unnoticed. As a landscape artist you develop a heightened awareness of your surroundings.
OTOMYS: I understand that next month you will be travelling to the Victorian High Country! Can you tell us anything about the works you plan on creating there?
Julz Beresford: Yes! I will be going with another artist who also works en plein air, which is fantastic. We have hired a cabin up there for a few days, however depending on the weather conditions we may have to move around a bit. I plan on exploring Ned Kelly country, focusing on the harshness and rawness of this incredible terrain, and creating rich and painterly Australian scenes.
During my visit I don’t plan on looking for a grand, expansive view. Instead, I want to look for what’s unique and special within this landscape. I have a deep love for distinctly Australian colours. In Australia we have such a unique pallet and I’m passionate about capturing this within my paintings.
November 10, 2022