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Julia Rice, Artist & Teacher: Igniting Social Change through Art

By April 2, 2012November 26th, 20164 Comments

From the archives: this interview originally appeared on the site on June 16th 2010.

What is your name, age, and location?

I’m Julia Rice, 34, originally from Chicago, U.S., but I currently live in Banyoles (about 1 ½ north of Barcelona), Spain.

What is your profession?

I am a social artist and a teacher. I make art to tackle social problems and start conversations. I teach because I love interacting with people and also to support myself, since social art doesn’t always sell so well.

What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?

I graduated with a degree in English literature from Wheaton College (about 25 miles from Chicago) in 1998. Just last year, I received a Master’s of Fine Arts from Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands.

What was your first job?

Since I was about twelve, I’ve cleaned houses in the neighborhoods where I lived. I grew up in a big family where money was often tight so I always had one job or another. Throughout my teenage years, I waitressed and worked in day camps, until I graduated from college and started teaching. Being a teacher has been the easiest way to support myself as I paint and country hop.

Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?

I make images and write in response to something I see as a problem. An art professor once told me that people make the best art from what is closest to themselves. For me, these issues of image and being a woman in society are very real. I have struggled with negative body image issues for many years (as does just about every woman I talk to). And in spite of all my artwork, writing and thinking on these issues, I still am drawn to beauty images. I still struggle with negative messages about how I physically don’t ‘measure up’. Because I believe this is such a widespread problem in our society (and an insidious one that keeps women subjugated – in a certain way – to the male gaze, as this gaze is the ‘judge’ of the ideal just as we are the ones constantly evaluated), I keep painting away at the same subjects.

Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?

I think some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my work has been the feedback I’ve gotten from women and girls. Last year as part of my Master’s thesis, I created an online forum (on the subject of women and advertising). I’ve also worked with teenage girls in different groups on the subject. In my artwork, in the forum, in my groups, I love the conversations that start about a problem many women see and know well which still continues to eat away at us.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?

I make art about subjects I know well. I can only paint and make the art I do because I am a woman. I paint my ideals, yes, but I also paint against these ideals. I paint out my fantasies. What I wish I could look like, what I have wanted all my life as a young woman, or maybe only what I have been told I should want. I paint from this place as a personal rebellion and as unfulfilled desire. I paint as a woman responding to society around me, not necessarily to be an activist or a feminist.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?

It is difficult to survive as an artist, period. It becomes even more difficult when you are pigeon-holed into a labeled box. I used to think of myself as a feminist artist, but now I prefer to leave myself a bit more space. The problem with being labeled is that you can then be easily dismissed.

Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?

Right now, I’d have to say my grandmother, Martha. She came to the U.S from Czechoslovakia at age 11 and was put in 1st grade because she didn’t know English. She was a very intelligent woman who worked hard all her life. In spite of many obstacles, she created beauty around her. Throughout a tiring career of working as a sales’ clerk in a department store, she raised two children, translated books from Czech, embroidered colorful pictures, grew roses and taught herself to cook.

If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?

Grow a very thick scaly skin, and persevere. Try every door you can. And sometimes make funny, happy or just beautiful pictures to balance things out.


– Interview by Elena Rossini


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