GRACE, MYTH, AND MYSTIQUE: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHASE JULIEN
Chase Julien is a Louisiana-based visual artist and painter. He grew up in the small rural community of Loreauville, LA and graduated from the University of Louisiana. Largely a self-taught painter, his fantastical imagery draws on European painting traditions while reflecting the culture and heritage of Acadiana.
He has been featured as a muralist for a New Iberia community project and for the Lafayette Mini Art Galleries project, and has exhibited work as part of the Lafayette art group “The Hallway” and at the Creole Gardens Bed & Breakfast in New Orleans. He also teaches art for the Lafayette Parish Talent program and has been a guest artist for the Children’s Museum of Acadiana.
Julien was interviewed via email correspondence at the beginning of 2022 by Arts Editor Erica Vermette, with additional questions from Louisiana Creole Co-Editors Robin White and Jonathan Mayers.
EV: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
JC: I am an artist of Creole descent focused on figurative painting and portraiture, raised in the small rural village of Loreauville, Louisiana. I am constantly inspired by my surroundings, and I have always had a strong sense of curiosity; this curiosity has made me a jack-of-all-trades, and I'm always looking to learn something new.
That same curiosity, along with my heritage, inspired my desire to really focus on French throughout the years of my education. To me, it was something very familiar, yet simultaneously so foreign—a juxtaposition of sorts—and that’s what draws me to often include French titles in my artworks. Having taken a keen interest in surrealism, drawn in so much by the concept of juxtaposition and a sense of mystique, my work became strongly influenced by it. As I continue to develop and grow as an artist, I think that this influence will remain embedded in my vision of representing my love for my heritage and also creating aesthetics steeped in grace, myth, and mystique.
I have also dabbled a bit in writing, mainly poetry, and I have a love for wordplay and the origins and roots of our languages. Exploring different concepts there also tends to have some influence on many of the visual ideas I get, so they all come together hand-in-hand.
EV: Perfect segue into our next question, from Jonathan Mayers: “Do you have a relationship to regional languages, such as Kouri-Vini (Louisiana Creole) or Louisiana French? If so, do they ever inform your work?”
JC: I would say I have a bit of a relationship with Kouri-Vini; my late great aunt was always saying things in Louisiana French, and my brother and father, as well as most of my older family members, often use Kouri-Vini expressions and phrases. I would say they are beginning to inform my work more and more, especially as I continue to connect with more and more local artists. I am currently working on a painting depicting my uncle fishing for the beloved crappie—or, as it goes in Louisiana by its Creole French name, "sac-a-lait". The painting will be called "The Sac-a-Lait King."
EV: From Robin White: “Caribbean artists and writers often reflect on coming from small places—Loreauville seems like it is indeed a small small place. What is the culture like there? Does it get reflected in your work?”
JC: Loreauville culture is very traditional and old-school. A very nostalgic place, centered around family, food (especially crawfish), football, and agriculture—lots of sugarcane fields and cows. There's also the great bayou Teche passing through, and Lake Dauterive.
I've spent a lot of time exploring different themes and concepts, and for some time wanted to break away from the familiar; however, it has still found ways to trickle in, and in more recent years, I've found myself returning to themes and subjects that remind me of home. For example, the football mascot (and by proxy, the town mascot), is a tiger, and I find that it’s become a recurring figure in many artworks of mine.
Recently though, I have started re-adapting a lot of the motifs from back home into my artworks. I've definitely been in the Mardi Gras spirit lately and have been doing a few playful designs of Mardi Gras fools, and it's lovely. The Mardi Gras parade has always been a highlight of growing up in Loreauville, so that's my way of honoring the tradition and fun of the parade.
EV: What draws you to painting? How does painting as a form and medium dialogue with the content of your work?
JC: I think I'm drawn towards painting because painting, in my opinion, is the most graceful way of conveying an expression or concept. It also feels the most traditional, and I grew up admiring paintings from many genres, and was heavily influenced by many painters, internalizing an idea that painting is the highest form of art-making. Of course, that's largely because it and drawing are the most familiar to me.
Another thing is the brush strokes; I feel like it's a nice layer to an artwork that can be very important, adds a new dynamic to a piece, and can have a great effect in the end. Painting is a highly diverse medium and allows much room for exploration, which is important as I continue developing my style and aesthetic.
I think it dialogues with the content of my work in that it often inspires my ideas to evolve somewhat as the painting develops, but also it flows and allows me to get a sense of rhythm, which is important in creating graceful and flowing imagery. I think it's widely regarded as a very familiar medium, and when I think of art in general, painting is usually the first thing that comes to mind; this speaks to my work in that I usually try to blend a sense of familiarity with mystery in my subject matter.
My works often focus on themes and settings that feel dreamlike, and I think painting is one of the main mediums that makes it easy to illustrate a realm of dreams and illusion, balanced with simplicity. It also gives me a strong feeling of control over what I'm making, and I think being able to build upon layers like one does with painting allows for the highest degree of detail when desired.
EV: What is your painting process like, and what part of it excites you the most?
JC: My process is usually loose in the beginning; I usually derive ideas from looking over older sketches and doodles of mine, and then, if I'm inspired to explore it further and possibly turn the concept into a painting, I usually develop a cleaner version and figure out the composition, then begin with a light sketch on the canvas or board to build a framework. Since I usually paint with acrylic, I can block in colors and build layers quickly. Throughout the painting process, I step back and look at it from a distance very frequently just to be sure it's still on the right track.
I think my favorite part of the process is when I start building up the main figures and it becomes clear what the painting is of—to me, it's a clear look at the imagery hatching from its shell and coming to life.
EV: You mention “fantasy” in some of your artist bios—Can you talk about your relationship to the idea of fantasy? I feel like fantasy was considered this escapist, lowbrow thing for so long, but in the last decade there’s been a resurgence of POC artists and writers using fantasy as a powerful tool for reconnection and reimagining. What does fantasy mean to you, and how does it operate in your work?
JC: My idea of fantasy is a place where we can think of things unconfined by the rules and norms of society—and even nature—as we know them. It's a place where one can describe things that go beyond our senses and perception, a place of dreams, magic, mythology, an alternate reality, or even a super-reality; it allows me the ability to create my own world. In learning to create my own world, I gain insight about the real world around me, or a different perspective of it.
As a result, I tend to view the world around me more in the sense of a visitor and/or observer, and given the mortal and transient nature of us as human beings, I think that it can be a bit of an enlightening and empowering experience to be able to view the world from that kind of perspective from time to time.
However, it is also important to stay connected to the real world and find a good balance between fantasy and the real world. Fantasy allows me to bend reality in my work a bit, whether it be for the sake of humor, aesthetics, imagining, etc. It allows a greater degree of freedom and exploration in my creativity but also allows me to incorporate more fun, whimsical, and mysterious elements.
It also has an interesting effect in juxtaposing and blurring the lines between dreaming and being awake, and allows me to investigate the more elusive and illusive corners of my psyche. I think in my work it helps in reinforcing my goal of balancing familiar imagery with mystery.
EV: You mentioned tending to view the world as a “visitor and/or observer,” and I imagine a lot of artists could probably relate. Do you think this tendency is influenced by your identity or upbringing at all, or do you think it's more of a general shared thing among creative folks?
JC: I think my identity may have some influence on that tendency, but I think it's primarily influenced by being a creative. It comes with the territory—the desire/need to think outside the box—and in order to think outside the box, it's necessary to sort of place oneself outside that box. But that status is very dependent on the situation and artist too, I imagine.
EV: From Jonathan Mayers—”Is community involvement important to you and your work?”
JC: Community involvement is extremely important to me and my work. The community and the people here are an inspiration to me, and I think it's important to honor that, and give back as much as I can. Plus, being involved in the community increases awareness of what it has to offer and gives ample opportunity to continue networking and increasing exposure. So there are benefits on both ends to this one.
EV: What is the arts community like in Loreauville? What are some ways it engages with the wider community and culture of the village?
JC: Well, to be honest, there is not yet much of an arts community in Loreauville...however, there are a few notable artists from there that still do artwork in the area.
There have been increasing efforts to build up the presence of an arts community there, though. There was a small mural done fairly recently, and hopefully there will be more opportunities to expand the arts community in Loreauville in the future. One thing, though, is that the scenery of the Bayou Teche and all the wildlife and fish that come along with it are a strong inspirational point for many artists and creatives that come through town. The sugarcane fields and machines also contribute to some of that inspiration as well.
EV: How have the pandemic and other crises of the last few years affected your community and your art practice?
JC: The pandemic put a damper on the public aspect of the arts community here. The main venue I had been showing at, The Hallway, essentially closed for about a year as a result. I continued working on art projects as usual, but the opportunity to go out and see work was severely limited. So when things opened back up, it was very refreshing and motivating to go and see some art in person.
I think that when these crises happen, as bad as they may be, many artists look at things from a new perspective and become more motivated to find meaning behind these things and solace in their crafts.
What are you working on next?
JC: Currently, I am working on a few paintings for the upcoming Mitoloji Latannyér show that will be at the Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge in October. The show's theme centers around the folklore and myth of the Louisiana Gulf Coast region. I also have a few personal surrealist paintings I will resume work on afterwards. I recently finished two paintings for the Lafayette Mini Art Galleries project here in Lafayette: one side, a jester—the other side, an alligator ourobouros. It was fun adding my own touch on two Louisiana symbols. The mini galleries will be on display at various locations in Lafayette.
Chase Julien’s work can be found at @chasej_fineart on Instagram and at www.inprnt.com/gallery/michaeljchase/. For information on the Lafayette Mini Galleries, please visit @Lafayetteminiartgalleries on Instagram.