In the nineteenth century, long before the current era of fake news, Emily Dickinson wrote a meditation on truth in her poem Tell all the Truth but Tell it Slant. With a title alluding to the poem, this exhibition of Julie Cockburn’s latest work similarly excavates authentic stories by circuitous means. Using a rich material language, Cockburn embarks on a visual journey to delicately reveal narrative histories and layered meanings in lost and discarded images. Cockburn partially obscures the images in a process she describes as “paradoxically unmasking” their intrinsic truths, layering and embellishing them with exquisitely hand-crafted embroidery, beading, vibrant screen printing and gestural flurries of paint.
Recurring patterns, spots, kaleidoscopes, Venn diagrams, harlequins, flower heads, and cages are formally balanced with the existing compositions in response to imagined internal dialogues.
Enlarged prints of portrait sitters are given newfound vigour by dazzling polka dot veils, while groups of figures are entwined by pixel-like interlocking geometric grids of embroidered thread. Other figures and objects are lassoed with draped strings of beads and fibre braids or combined with a surrealist enamel cloudscape.
Working with the moving image for the first time, The Five Senses offers a discomfiting viewpoint, aligning the entrapment of a rigid sitter in the photographic portrait with the animated movements of a captured insect.
The exhibition coincides with a new book Stickybeak, the first comprehensive monograph on the artist’s work published by Chose Commune in September 2019.
Read more about Cockburn's unique process in the FT Weekend