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Julie Verhoeven Whiskers Between My Legs
A still from Whiskers Between My Legs, 2014Courtesy of the artist

Julie Verhoeven’s ‘grotto of visual excess’

As the artist calls on film, installation and performance for her next show, she talks to us about impending doom, Joan Collins and her frustrations with drawing

Julie Verhoeven’s art explores the notions of womanhood, her kaleidoscopic visions drawing from pop culture and feminism: the isolated body parts of Louise Bourgeois, the clown faces of Cindy Sherman, the physicality of Judy Chicago. Her latest show, Whiskers Between My Legs, a cross-disciplinary, joyously colourful installation at the ICA, presents new video, fashion illustration and draped fabric to conjure a “grotto of visual excess” to titillate and entertain. The artist’s playful personality infiltrates everything: monitors are encased in the basins of quilted toilets; scrapbooks from her life contain Carole King song lyrics; lime green bathmats and drawings of high-heeled walking penises question the viewer’s notions of femininity and taste.

Also a designer and illustrator by trade, Verhoeven’s move into more immersive artwork stems, she says, “From frustrations with my own drawing limitations,” giving her a reason to indulge her sense of fun and rudeness. Ahead of the installation’s opening, the artist discusses Joan Collins, Kenny Everett, a “brutish macho man” and gives us a look at some exclusive imagery from her new film.

You say you’ve shown no restraint in this show, what made you decide to push things further?

Julie Verhoeven: On a not-so-bright note, I had a feeling of impending doom and wanted to get it all out there. I wanted to bask in that warm sense of relief of moving on. I relished the feeling of attempting to disable my auto-edit taste button and just be careless and visually, mildly reckless. Working with gay abandon works for me.

Can you explain how film, performance and installation will interact in this exhibition? 

Julie Verhoeven: It’s just one big mush of repetitive components, morphing into different guises through the different mediums, which in itself sounds like a load of old baloney, but it’s true. A stream of consciousness that I trust will somehow bond together in situ.

Can you tell us why you felt frustrated by your drawing abilities? You are an accomplished illustrator!

Julie Verhoeven: This has been a slow-burning frustration that my drawings are not satisfying me presently, but thinking about it in greater depth it’s actually more the physical process of drawing that frustrates me and the fact I can’t manage to gain a greater depth of tactility to the work on paper. I lack the discipline to sit for any length of time presently. I like to be more animated and physical in the studio, jump around a bit and create work that way, often through happy and less happy accidents. Drawing feels too passive and quiet a medium for me currently, but it’s just a passing phase, no doubt.

Why is it important to you to use art to make people laugh?  

Julie Verhoeven: It wasn’t a conscious decision it just surfaced somehow through boredom with pseudo intellectual, ego-inflated art that made me want to revert to being a juvenile muppet. Humour is an attractive appealing quality in any medium, as is laughter and big smiles. It feels absurd not of try and crowbar it into the work should it be welcome, because it can’t fail but give the work a wider appeal.

Has your view on gender stereotypes changed as your work has progressed?  

Julie Verhoeven: I’ve always been attracted to more undefined, muddied genders but as time goes on I am feeling more warmth and intrigue to cases of extreme, exaggerated gender stereotypes. I’m quite enjoying a brutish macho man presently.

“I’ve always been attracted to more undefined, muddied genders but as time goes on I am feeling more warmth and intrigue to cases of extreme, exaggerated gender stereotypes. I’m quite enjoying a brutish macho man presently” – Julie Verhoeven

Was there a single object, or place, or instance, used as the jumping off point for this show?

Julie Verhoeven: Watching Joan Collins in The Stud (1978) was the starting point. The opening sequence scrolls over a pin board of luscious pin-ups. There is lots of rather titillating dressing and undressing and lush interiors, plus buckets of tongue-in-cheek innuendo and girl power. And Kenny Everett, in all his many television character roles, has remaining a constant source of indulgence and pleasure.

Can you talk to us about your process, how you decided on the textures, colours and fabrics you’ve employed?

Julie Verhoeven: I just trusted my instinct and intuition. Let my emotional state lead the shopping and remodel/remake process.  I let go of any shame of re-working older work and attacked it with relish. I allowed myself be attracted to rather kitsch, dodgy cloth and embrace my inner kitsch wants. There is no colour I dislike, so it was a pleasure to involve them all and party.

Whiskers Between My Legs runs in the Fox Reading Room at the ICA from 9 December 2014 to 18 January 2015