Julia Plath’s grim life and death illustrations are inspired by Bergman and K-Pop
Graduated in illustration from HAW Hamburg in 2018, she has since worked as a freelance illustrator, collaborating with clients such as Rolling Stone magazine, FAS and Hohe Luft. His works are strongly figurative, full of symbolism and meaning. There is also a nostalgic element in each piece, underscored by a sense of melancholy, creating truly atmospheric works that tell tales of life’s dramas and woes.
It was not a style that came easily to Julia, as she tells us about her struggles in college to find her voice. “The first four semesters, I thought I was desperate, but after that I slowly found my art style, the one you see today,” she says.
Julia pays tribute to her fellow graduates Thomke Meyer and Karlotta Freier, who inspired her on the right path. Since then, she has mainly turned to the cinema to find ideas; the work of Swedish arthouse legend Ingmar Bergman is particularly influential. “I love the way he portrays women and their relationships with each other, as well as the recurring themes in his work,” she explains. She is, of course, talking about the dramatic cinematography, the close-ups and the tremendous pace of her films. It’s a style that has also influenced directors such as Woody Allen and Ang Lee. “I have a huge database of screenshots from the movies I watched on my computer for inspiration,” Julia continues, with Summer Interlude and Wild Strawberries among the collection.
In an interesting twist, Julia thinks K-Pop music videos play their part as well: “They have such a precise and colorful dollhouse aesthetic, which often uses the same symbols, like tubs and umbrellas,” says she. “Even though they come from different bands and artists, they seem to come from the same universe. I really like that.”
Photographers like Alex Prager, who inspired much of Julia’s illustrations, stepped into the mix: “Her work combines surrealism and a kind of old Hollywood glam that touches me deeply. It also reminds me a bit of David Lynch, whom I wish I had. “There is also a pinch of poetry that fuels her art:” I am obsessed with the confessional words of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ginsberg, Lowell and Snodgrass. Sometimes I have the impression that what I illustrate is in a way confessional poetry but in the form of illustration.
Browsing through Julia’s portfolio, one immediately spots a recurring theme: animals in almost every room, bringing an extra layer of intrigue to the story. “Symbolism is something I love, but I don’t consciously use it,” says Julia. “It’s not that I want to say a specific thing with an illustration. It’s more of a situation, a feeling, a state of mind. The symbolism I use is linked to many classic films – the mystery of ‘a smoking woman, the lookalike pattern, the 60s floor pattern. With animals, I feel like they reflect our own wants and needs. We project so much onto the animals (which is not always just for them.) I like lobsters, for example, because I think of the famous scene from Annie Hall, as well as David Foster Wallace’s essay, Consider the Lobster. It’s such an interesting animal. ; he looks so guarded, but he’s so helpless.
Julia continues: “Or horses. I rode a horse when I was a teenager, and to me they represented the ultimate femininity. The horse is so strong and elegant but has a wild temperament. I often feel that this is something I wanted from a horse as a kid because I wanted to be wild and unruly too. Riding brought me a little closer to that feeling. So I think you have your associations with it. all animals: fish, birds, cats. I feel like I envy animals for their freedom from the pressure of society: they don’t have to “do something on their own.” However, I pity them – that our species controls their freedom. I think this juxtaposition of their shameless identity, and the cage that they “live in, is a motif that I can relate to.”
A recent example is Wild sheep pillowcase, a personal project to illustrate Haruki Murakami’s novel. “This is the story of a man who must find a sheep with exorbitant powers for a secret ‘boss’ to restore him to health. At the beginning of the story, there is a brief history of a girl who he used to see, who always read a coffee alone and one day committed suicide. The two stories don’t seem to correlate – but I wanted to bring them together. I like the image of the flocks of sheep, how they are so close! ‘one from the other that they create an indistinguishable mass, and this girl, who does not bother them but does not belong to this mass. She, who is in this sea of sheep, who stands out so obviously. I am fell in love with this idea and had to draw it, even though it’s not in the book. “
On the darker aspect of his works, it is difficult to feel a sense of sadness or loss. Oddly enough, although the subject matter is often dark, his illustrations are heartwarming. “I never really thought it was heartwarming, but I guess you’re right. I think I see the world as a horrible place where terrible things happen to good people all the time, and there is a great injustice everywhere, ”says Julia. “But, at the same time, sometimes you find the right people where you belong, and there is a way to laugh at your own misfortune and be silly and have fun, and that’s okay because it doesn’t matter. There’s really no other way to deal with everyone else. It’s like this saying: “Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering – and everything is going way too fast.” this passion and caring that people have for things. I think that’s what I love most about people, what I find endearing. “
We can all relate to Woody Allen’s humorous speech at the start of one of his best films, but it’s a side that Julia doesn’t feel like in her illustrations: “I rather show the moments. of reflection, silent moments. I have my friends and family to have fun, talk and laugh with, but there are just things that you have to figure out for yourself and that only you can do. I find myself managing them in my art. “
Faced with such themes, Julia’s recent play, Three phases, looks at the different phases of mourning and, as such, is divided into three parts: “The vulture, restraint and restlessness,” says Julia. “The first in shock, pain and deep sadness, the second, mad, desperate, not wanting to let go and the last, finally free and looking at the sky, leaving her past behind.
“I did them because I have a hard time letting go of things over and over again. People, situations, memories and more abstract things – it’s like the way I think about myself. I have a hard time letting go of the past; it always comes back to haunt me. But it’s not just that, I find there is a somewhat masochistic side to clinging to painful memories and / or traumatic, like the “toxic” boyfriend that you can’t break And so, I wanted to draw this process of letting go, once again accompanied by animals, that I associate a little with this feeling The lobsters, crawling on the kitchen floor like in Annie Hall, like a memory of the good guys … the fish swarm, surround you, make you let go, and you hang on almost out of spite, completely devoid of reason. .. and the birds, soaring, becoming their own swarm and being left behind.
“It’s about how hard it is to let go, how much you come to identify with certain people and certain memories, and how hard it is to continue without them. But I have the. feels like the last photo is hopeful; you don’t see her face it because after that she won’t be the same, finally ready to change. “