In Conversation with Julia Roche

OTOMYS: You live, work and grew-up on Wiradjuri Country. Spending so much time here, you must have a deep understanding of the land. How has this connection with the land informed your new exhibition From The Sky
Julia Roche: I live and work with my husband and 3 kids near a little village called Mangoplah, about 20km South of Wagga Wagga. I grew up on Wooroola and although I know the landscape rather well from my younger years, my understanding of the country has greatly shifted and deepened over the past 6 years. I often reflect on my childhood memories; horse riding, swimming in the dam, playing in the woolshed and scaling up rafters to get onto the water tanks with my brother and sister. Playing freely amongst the trees and exploring the land was incredible and helped build my creative confidence, consequently informing my journey in the arts. 30 years on, I paint plein air and within the woolshed I used to play in as a child. I now view the country more maturely. At this moment my surroundings are gloriously lush, but since moving back here with my family we’ve experienced drought, the threat of bushfires and other challenges brought by Covid. My reactions when working in the landscape feel more complex and physical than when I was younger. I also view the landscape with a desire to learn more about First Nations histories and experiences. This series of paintings, From The Sky, is a direct response to the environment, the seasons, the weather and my emotional state at that time. 
OTOMYS: How did the landscape and your home of Wooroola influence your career as an artist, and specifically as a painter? 
Julia Roche: I’ve drawn and painted since I can remember. I had a free-range childhood and was given many opportunities and encouragement from my creative parents. I am at ease when I’m immersed in the landscape, and painting plein air and throughout the night challenges traditional techniques, urging me to focus on collective memories, my connection to land and atmosphere, rather than sight. There are experiences, views, colours, markings and sounds from this landscape imprinted in my mind, and these memories reemerge whilst I paint. 
OTOMYS: For this series, was there a particular element of the land which you chose to focus on? If so, could you please explain why? 
Julia Roche: It has been a particularly wet and misty season and my palette reflects this. I experimented at length with negative space and tried creating that sensation of being immersed in the mist. By omitting a horizon line, I challenged my instinctual habit of anchoring the land’s elements, allowing imagery, colour and texture to float more freely throughout the composition. This more abstract approach created an ethereal atmosphere.  

OTOMYS: How does the temperament of weather influence your works? Do you find that the changing seasons creates new moods in your work?  
Julia Roche: Absolutely. Working in the elements informs the direction of my work significantly. My choice of materials, techniques, tools and palette change according to the temperament of the weather.
OTOMYS: Your paintings possess an incredible sense of vitality and depth. How do you achieve this feeling within your paintings?  
Julia Roche: I am inspired by the natural world and the way in which people’s responses and experiences vary. Using a range of traditional painting materials, I respond to my immediate environment with an authentic and undistracted visual and emotional perspective. Materials are drawn and scrubbed into the canvas (or cotton rag) using my hands to create texture and depth. It is a very emotive and primal experience and process. I literally work on the ground and use the landscape as a tool, using different methods that allow me to collaborate with the environment. For example, I invite the elements to become imprinted on my paintings, allowing dust and rain to stay on the canvas. I also work through the night plein air, letting the energy of the land guide my brushstrokes. I want the viewer to gain a deeper connection between seeing and feeling. 
OTOMYS: You are known to fully immersive yourself within the landscape, resting your canvases on the grass as you paint. What is the importance of working within the landscape for you? How much time do you spend in your studio compared to working outside? 
Julia Roche: Over the past 3 years I have collaborated with the environment in many ways and for different reasons. Feeling particularly vulnerable and a bit lost in my practice after becoming a mother and moving back to the farm, I was urged to experiment, and challenge my existing methodologies. Ahead of my first solo show, I made a series of oil paintings and left the canvases outside, exposed to the elements. Here, I allowed the land to leave its mark. Each work served as a time and site-specific record of the natural world they were produced in. My intention with this series, which was entitled Unearth, was to bring myself and the viewer into a deeper space, creating a stronger connection to place. More recently I exhibited a series at MAMA called Under A Winter Moon. Again, I needed to break through some barriers I had created in my head and working under moonlight helped achieve that. Splitting my time between Wooroola and a Regenerative farm called Bibbaringa, I used found objects and materials from both properties, working on large format canvases and sheets of cotton rag. Venturing into the winter elements with only the moonlight to guide me was a great opportunity to focus on what emotions I felt within this environment. Using materials such as oil sticks, linseed oil and natural charcoal from the recent bush fires, I relied on the motion of my body to mark-make, responding to shadows, silhouettes and textures. Being in the night was a disarming experience. Minimal noise and diminished sight allowed me to feel connected with my surroundings and the country.  I split my time evenly between painting outside and in my studio. Although I love working on Wooroola, I enjoy residencies – absorbing new environments and feeling the energies that space generates. 
November 3, 2022