Julia Dault’s paintings seem particularly concerned with the fact of their own making. Simultaneously methodical and gestural, they exude a calculated self-awareness, walking a fine line between painterly craft and commercial design. At first glance, her colorful palette of abstract geometries and optical effects presents a relatively flat, two-dimensional scenario, reminiscent of a fashion textile or graphic print. But on closer inspection the work draws the viewer in, slowly revealing the process and marks of the artist. Dault paints in both oil and acrylic, using unmixed colors straight from the tube. Instead of traditional brushes, she often employs a rubber comb or squeegee. Developing vibrant, technicolor patterns in the first layer that she applies to the canvas (or leather or vinyl), she then paints over them in a solid, usually neutral tone, using the comb or another tool to remove areas of still wet paint. This technique reveals the color beneath in rhythmic patterns or gestures – such as in the painting White Heat (2015) – giving unexpected depth to the composition.
Dault’s process provides what we might call productive constraints. However, the paintings are not ‘rule-based’ in the sense that we are accustomed to when thinking about conceptual or minimal art. Rather, these constrainits seem to emerge from the implicit properties of the tools and the medium itself. The paint and the comb make plain for (or ’evident’) the status of the paintings as the end products of a process, rather than a painterly illusion. This process results in work with a somewhat literal quality – the effect is demonstrated, not obscured – and even the gestural shapes that Dault makes tend to leave a mark that is as much an index of the tool as an expression of the hand.
The titles of Dault’s paintings are derived from popular culture, including music (Color Me Badd, Majer Lazer, Party Mix), television (The Freshmaker), and film (Indecent Proposal). With only a few exceptions, her reference points are all from the 1980s and 1990s, underlining the nostalgic quality of many of her works. Indeed, the titles seem to snap into focus other latent aesthetic cues from those decades, conjuring up faintly remembered Esprit jumpers, swatch watches and Yamaha DX7 synth lines. The experience makes for an irresistible rhythmic formula: the visual equivalent of a Stock, Aitken and Waterman hit. In this sense, Dault is also playing with our assumptions about ‘abstraction’. By routing her aesthetic choices through media, fashion and textiles, she manages to deliver abstraction-as-pop art. Recent collaborations with fashion and merchandising brands such as Everlane, Massif Central and Jeremy Laing only goes to show how well such an aesthetic can translate back into the texture of everyday life.