More is Definitely More

The house numbers of artist Julia deVille’s home and studio are literally nailed into her worn timber front door. The rusty nails are the first sign that this is no ordinary jewellery workshop. deVille is known for her taxidermy contemporary jewellery and object d’art. Her infamous mouse brooch, comprising the head of a mouse with diamond eyes mounted on a jet plaque, caused ripples in the jewellery scene when first released in 2002. Fast-forward 16 years and deVille is now revered for her distinctive work; represented at the Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney) in 2006 and at the Biennale in Adelaide in 2014. She also received the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, given by the South Australian Museum. American burlesque performer Dita Von Teese, who regularly visits Melbourne, has her eye on a taxidermy baby alpaca with a feather on its head, straddling a rocking plinth.

For deVille, ‘More is definitely More’ in her home and studio in Collingwood, Melbourne. The rustic warehouse, thought to have been built at the turn of the 20th century, was originally used as a button factory. deVille purchased this warehouse in 2007 after arriving in 2001 from New Zealand where she was raised. The place was partially renovated, with walls painted white to display her extraordinary collection of taxidermy. Deer heads, flying crows and antelope cast a watchful eye over the jewellers working in the studio. “I’ve found a lot of these pieces from markets, through dealers and on the web,” says deVille, whose penchant is for the Victorian aesthetic, with the emphasis on the unusual, ornate and highly decorative. A sculpture by Melbourne-based artist Ali Aitken, inspired by Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, takes the form of a writhing leather-clad creature with outstretched tongue. Even the computer screens on some of the workbenches feature taxidermy ducklings perched on the rim.

deVille admits to being a workaholic. Between 2013 and 2014, she had eight exhibitions around Australia and was working seven days each week and well into the night, often leaning over a jewellery bench. With her bedroom previously just behind the studio, she found herself working in the late afternoon not having eaten anything all day. “My mother (Janette Okkerse) suggested that I needed to break the cycle and convert my bedroom into a showroom,” says deVille. So her bedroom was transformed into her showroom with her bedroom moved upstairs. deVille can now bring clients into a separate space, away from the studio, which is often filled with up to five staff: two jewellers, a studio manager, a showroom manager and a studio assistant. “Separating work from home (upstairs is a kitchen, living and dining area, two bedrooms and a bathroom) means that I can discipline myself a little more with more reasonable hours,” she says.

The showroom, like the studio, features dark timber polished floorboards and white painted walls, a neutral backdrop for deVille’s fascinating collection of jewellery, taxidermy and personal items, such as her grandmother’s wedding photo. A couple of taxidermy ravens are in mid-flight, unlike Dita Von Teese’s alpaca that is protected in a glass cabinet. Ivy creeps around a structural column to create an outdoor feel, as do skylights. “Nature has always been a big inspiration in my work. I need to be surrounded by greenery and things that have a history,” says deVille.

The Victorian dining table central to the showroom is artfully arranged with engagement rings containing precious stones. Jewellery and taxidermy is also protected under glass bell jars. “When I’m setting up for an exhibition in a gallery or museum, I am confined by the space and endeavouring to convey a theme. Here, it’s simply the way I see things and want them arranged,” says deVille, who has included a funeral wreath with black ribbons on the same wall as an albino fruit bat, wings stretch out to the edge of the glass cabinet. “I’m quite happy to be compared to Morticia Addams (from the television series The Addams Family),” says deVille, picking up a wilted rose.

deVille is feeling the pressure in the lead up to her new exhibition to be held over five rooms at the Linden New Art Gallery in St Kilda (from 25th August until early November) with a secondary exhibition (from 3rd October until 20th October) at the Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond. Those who have become endeared with deVille’s taxidermy will be pleased to see taxidermy in her latest exhibitions. However, they will also be impressed with her new direction, titled ‘Wholeness and The Implicit Order, reflecting deVille’s interest with technology and virtual realty. Based on a title from the late author David Bohm’s book ‘Wholeness and The Implicate Order’, visitors will see holograms of a mouse sitting in a spoon and framed by lace. Backlit, these holograms will take you into another world. In the studio, waiting to be adorned by pearls and precious stones is a baby giraffe, a still born, that will elevated on a table and encased in a resin capsule created by well-known artist Kate Rhodes. With a price tag of six figures, deVille has become not only one of Australia’s leading contemporary jewellers, but an artist in her own right.

“The difference between jewellery and art is that the client has input into a design, particularly if it’s a wedding or engagement ring,” says deVille. The giraffe, which until now has been in a freezer for 30 years at Queen Victoria University in Launceston, will require a considerable amount of deVille’s time. “I just need to get a straight run of four hours at a time to complete this work. It really needs all my attention,” she adds. This writer is not only conscious of deVille’s time, but as eager to see the giraffe when it appears in her exhibition later this year.

Text by Stephen Crafti.

Lifestyle & Design

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