Back to News

Julie Sumner: Artist Statement

Posted 31st August 2017
Watts Contemporary Gallery

by Julie Sumner

The paintings in this series are large, colourful and whimsical. They are made with soft chalk pastel that is painted directly onto raw canvas to create a velvety felt-like finished effect. The paintings are currently unframed and uncovered to maintain this effect and to give the overall impression of a kind of modern day tapestry.

Neither abstract nor purely representational, the paintings are a montage of both. My work is concerned with the materiality of the flat surface and the sensuous physical process of making. The mark making is immediate and the chalk pastel pigment is rubbed or pressed in so that it grips to the weave of the canvas. I make the canvas stretchers by hand and prefer the painting surface to be bigger than me to reinforce the feeling of expansion and freedom.

The completed paintings are a record of all the different aspects of looking at what is around me and my interpretation of it at the time of making. The paintings and their titles are playful. Artists including Jonathan Lasker and Fiona Rae have inspired the outcome of the style of composition. This series is ongoing.

When starting to paint there is not much of a plan. It is spontaneous and a kind of improvisation of thoughts and responses to where I am and what I see. Some of the motifs are representative and some are a significant colour or just an indication of something. Objects in my immediate vicinity that catch my attention or that have meaning to me may be included. After a while I select things and apply marks to represent them. This all takes time as some of the marks are quite small. In the painting 'And Time Gurgles On', there is an image of a little plastic covered wire man that my son made in primary school. Recognisable motifs from other artists are evident, for example, samples from Peter Doig's paintings, Robert Ryman and Alexander Calder's mobiles.

The scale of the paintings and the slow process of making are in direct response to the modern day lifestyle of speed and small screens: laptops, tablets and phone handsets; the demand of constant availability and the target driven workplace. It is good to stop and just look around. There is so much to see and we miss so much in the rush.

There is a fragility due to the combination and application of materials and how they will be affected by time. This fragility relates to the subject matter of how time passes, about loss and what is missed. So these paintings are a reminder of what is or can be missed and of what we can see if we take the time to stop a while.

The titles of the first three paintings have been inspired by the poet Emily Dickinson and artists Peter Lanyon and Jutta Koether because their written work makes me laugh. I want my paintings to be fun and uplifting to the viewer.


Julia Sumner was one of the winners of the 2017 Winsor & Newton Watts Painting Prize.