An Artist Harnesses Used Textiles to Explore Intimacy and Memory

In our new T Faces series, we profile up-and-comers from across the artistic spectrum. First up is the 2023 Archibald Prize finalist Julia Gutman.

Article by Victoria Pearson

T FACES_JuliaJulia Gutman with her 2022 piece “Once More with Feeling” (in background), crafted from donated textiles. Photography by Simon Hewson.

“Storytelling is a big part of my familial culture,” says the artist Julia Gutman. “I grew up in a house where the only activity that felt competitive was captivating the table with your words. The Gutman mantra was always, ‘Don’t confuse a good story with the facts.’ ” 

Formative verbal sparring gave way to a stint at film school, before a segue into painting. Gutman’s early pieces were personal — figurative and narrative-based — but her studies muddled her inspiration. “I got a little ‘art schoolified’,” she says. “I realised that I probably wouldn’t have been excited by my own work if I came upon it in a museum. That was a little bit of a lightbulb moment.”

T FACES_Julia 2
Julia Gutman at work in her Sydney studio. Photography by Simon Hewson.

Gutman turned her gaze towards textiles and began crafting large-scale “patchwork” pieces out of used clothing. “This body of work started after I lost a close friend in an unexpected tragedy. We had shared a studio until the moment of her passing,” says Gutman. The experience shaped her practice profoundly, and she uses her fabric works — which take between one and three months of hand stitching and machine embroidering to finish — to explore themes of femininity, intimacy and memory, and the relational nature of artmaking.

“Sewing, at least the way I do it, is at once incredibly tender and inarguably aggressive,” says Gutman, who was invited to exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia’s “Primavera: Young Australian Artists 2022” showcase. “I’m bringing together disparate things, mending but violently puncturing them in order to do so.”