(Spencer Leefe, Queen’s University)
Julia Fast-Grass is a second-year fine arts student at Queen’s University. She is also a VP on the Board of Directors for the Union Gallery, which is located on the first floor of Stauffer Library and open: Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday: 11-4:30pm and Wednesday 11-8pm.
It is the Union Gallery where I saw her painting for the first time, and it was her painting that brought me back to the Gallery a week later to admire it again. I reached out to her, and Julia agreed to have a conversation with me about it.
I learned a lot about Julia, her perspective on the world, and her view of herself. It is certainly no secret that her “Millennial Venus” is her way of communicating to the world her own personal message of the female body.
Spencer: What was the pivotal moment that made you want to get into art?
Julia: I would love to work in a gallery someday… It was something that was so obvious, but I never realized that it was right in front of me. Growing up I was always creative… I always did crafts growing up. I loved being creative… and going through school I tried different creative things that I was interested in. For a while I was interested in studying fashion, I took sewing lessons for five years. I was into a lot of creative things, but never thought to do visual arts because it’s not really practical. In our society pursuing the arts is not something that you typically would think to do because people ask what are you going to do with studying fine arts. I don’t think it was a conscious decision not to pursue visual arts, but it was ingrained into my thinking.
Spencer: It’s true, pursuing the arts is frowned upon in our society – because most people don’t see it as being practical.
S: So, this exhibit’s theme was time?
J: Yeah, so this current exhibit was “Time”. In the fall term with my professor, we were doing painting. Really it was quite a free curriculum; we just had to do seven paintings. So, I came to create a nice body of work that collaborated well together. It mainly focused around women feeling more comfortable or confident with their bodies.
S: Would you call yourself a feminist?
J: Yes, definitely… My experience really influenced my body of work, and also a lot of my friends’ experiences. In terms of body shaming, feeling comfortable, and pressure of society and media – what bodies should look like. Not just women’s bodies, but all bodies.
S: Would you say there’s kind of a standard the media presents into the public? Especially for women, because women are most often the target audience, and you want to change that, basically.
J: Yeah, I hate that.
S: You don’t like it.?
J: It has had a lot of effect on my mental health— it stems from insecurity about myself.
S: Body shaming particularly had an effect on you?
J: Yeah and never feeling comfortable or confident – it felt like there was always something to change about my appearance. That really affected of how I feel about myself – and so many friends that have struggled with eating disorders, self-harm, and mental illness. So, I felt like it was really present in our lives… I really think social media and Instagram has an influence on people especially because you see these models that take 200 pictures to get that best one. Seeing these models and their ideal life that is presented have an effect on people and really, it’s curated… So, I really wanted to put out images that wouldn’t shame and that were natural representing confident women no matter what they were doing and that they were comfortable with their bodies… and that they wouldn’t be there for someone else, but there for themselves.
S: What do you mean by “there for someone else”?
J: Well, [for example] I really love renaissance paintings, but a lot of the females in the paintings – they’re obviously lying naked and they’re there for the male pleasure – it’s [a type of] voyeurism. I obviously don’t like that, but I like the aesthetic of it. So, [in my own paintings] I wanted to switch it around and have the women comfortable with themselves… and have them there not for the viewer to just look at them, but they’re there doing their own activities. In a lot of my own paintings the women are either reading a book, or on their laptop. It’s like [they’re saying] “I’m doing my own thing, I’m comfortable, and I’m not here just as some object for you to look at”.
S: So, I want to let you know I think you clocked the objects as classic millennial objects, for example the design of the pillow and the iPhone. A classic millennial [Queen’s] student. Was that the model?
J: Well yeah, I use myself – which is weird at times, so I guess it is a self-portrait. [Although] I do talk about it as if it’s not me because I feel like it represents more than me. Originally those objects started with another artwork I did earlier in the fall – the woman was not me, a different woman that was naked and she was on her library with a pizza box half eaten… Looking at paintings around the Renaissance or Baroque or Rococo and switching what the objects were. In those paintings there would be everyday objects like fruit. So, [I asked myself] what’s more present in everyday life now? So, that’s why I picked a phone, a laptop, and a pizza box. So that’s what sort of started the idea – the switching of objects to make them more millennial. These paintings are all part of a series called Millennial Venus— they have different hashtags.
S: The theme is “Time” – the image is pretty provocative.
J: People keep saying that… When I was painting my professor kept showing us different example of artists that do things very subtly. So, I really liked that idea, that subtlety. I think it develops layers to the paintings. People do say it’s provocative, but I guess my point is that it shouldn’t be provocative. Billions of people get their period every month – it happens. I guess I wanted to normalize that.
S: Why do you think there is a taboo about it?
J: …My theory is that I think women are so powerful in the sense that they can bleed and won’t die. They have this cycle and it helps them tell time and if you think about ancient times… I personally believe that people would [react] “woah, you don’t die and you’re losing all that blood.” That’s crazy… I think the men thought that was scary. Have you read the book The Red Tent?
J: It’s a story based off of Jacob and his wives. So, the wives – during their period – they would go into a red tent and bleed because their cycles would all sync. I love that idea; and people still do red tents – women would go and bleed. I guess my theory is that it’s taboo because slowly through time instead of being powerful it becomes skeptical. These are my theories though – no factual evidence [laughs]. I also feel like right now that there is a sisterhood or a coming together…I love the idea, but it’s more than a sisterhood, because there are others. There’s a community coming together that is happening and there’s a lot of hate in the world.
I want to thank Julia for sitting down with me, and to encourage her to continue to make art.