Julia McKenzie – exhibition at Romeo Jones

I have lived in South London now for a long time. I came here to be a student at Camberwell College of Art and have never really left. I met my husband at art school and we have brought up our children here.

Studio objects

I already felt very much part of my local community, but working much more seriously as an artist in the last few years as my daughters have got older, has connected me to an amazingly rich, diverse and creative community that has really inspired me.

I am very lucky to have the space and time to make work, but it is also great to have the opportunity to show it. I love Dulwich Festival Open House and will be taking part again next May. I enjoy opening the doors and having people in the studio, it is always a positive experience. I print locally in West Norwood at Bainbridge Studios, home to a large group of talented artists, and I am also part of the SLWA (South London Women’s artists).

My work is about seeking out and examining traces of nature and fragile glimpses things that have existed, natural or man made in my immediate environment. I work in a studio in my West Norwood garden and much of my work is based on what I find and see as I journey up and down from house to studio or on other travels to favourite parts of the coast and countryside.

In South London, if you have the time to look, the parks and gardens are teeming with wildlife. Birds, stag beetles, foxes and bats carry on their existence in spite of us; our verdant south London gardens, parks and cemeteries are an oasis for many, especially stag beetles.

I remember being amazed by urban foxes in Camberwell and Peckham when I was a student and they are still here. I thought they were exotic and mysterious, I’d never seen one before, even though I grew up in the countryside. Though not universally loved, I still get taken aback when a vulpine silhouette darts across the road at night or when cubs race and play in the garden at dawn and dusk.

Since I have lived here the green parrots have moved in. Like all potentially transitory city dwellers, some will stay and some will move on. Stag beetles tank around the garden in May, they are miniature aliens that live under the ground in our gardens for up to 7 years. Insects have been here for millennia, other creatures come and go like all other city dwellers.


In London it can be easy to lose touch with the natural world; we are all far too busy. But plants and animals were here long before us and remind us of our transitory state, our impermanence. Tenacity, tolerance and endurance are traits we can learn by observing our natural neighbours if we are patient enough.

My work is also about stopping to look at what is around you. I create drawings, collages and screen prints. Circus (pictured) celebrates our local wildlife; I like to use maps to give my work a specific sense of place. I watch people scrutinizing my work and they love it when they find a reference to where they live layered into a drawing or a print.

We all like to feel part of something and maps have a romantic quality that gives you have an overview of the world, they have a beautiful visual organic pattern that echoes the natural world as we try to order it and make sense of it.

Swallow Box

The work on show at Romeo Jones includes new collaged drawings put together in glazed box frames with found objects. I have a huge collection of found things, feathers, skulls, seed heads, lichen, birds nests, insects, pebbles and beach combed fragments of china- the list goes on. I get given these things too by friends. Some of these objects have been integrated with the drawings as I think one enhances the other.

Some things are very special, fragments found and treasured. An object can be drawn a hundred times and always reveal something new so giving them away is hard. The shard of willow pattern china in Swallow Box that I found on the beach was a wrench, but the drawing and the object belong together.

I have had a busy year of exhibitions in London and beyond so it is really good to be back in Dulwich village again at Romeo Jones as the year draws to a close, hope to see you there.

The exhibitions runs from 8 November to 6 December 2012 at Romeo Jones, Dulwich Village. For further information please visit: http://juliamckenzie.co.uk/.

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