INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring IMAGES courtesy of Juliet White
Joburg-born, Cape Town-based artist Juliet White, who illustrates under the name Cosmic Lucky Bag, chats to VISI about cats, creativity and how living in Japan for two years has influenced her work.
How did you initially get into art?
I don’t remember a time when art hasn’t in some way been present in my life. With art, we start off by learning to draw trees, family and the sun before we learn to read and write the words. At school, my favourite subjects were language and art and they make a good-looking couple, however, biology was an absolute favourite. It was the one subject that combined drawing, research, nature and all of its mechanics. I ended up studying art at Wits and majored in Printmaking and English Literature. I think that if I had pursued another discipline instead, I would probably still be drawing in my spare time.
Where did you come up with the name Cosmic Lucky Bag?
The Cosmic Lucky Bag is not my idea, although I wish it was. I was entertaining the idea of working for myself at the beginning of a very unstable economy in 2009. It all came from a conversation I was having at the time with my brother, along the lines of manifesting ideas. He coined the term “cosmic lucky bag” and I stole it. It is based on the lucky packs we used to get as kids. You never know what you are going to get and sometimes the uncertainty and mystery of the lucky pack is more fun that the actual contents of the bag. We are driven by certainty and expectation, these are the things that also guide us. And then there is the other thing, uncertainty, and that is what moulds us.
Your work ranges from Japanese ink on paper to street art. Do you have a preference when it comes to creating?
Creativity has no preference – it’s a language that can be applied to coding, painting, industrial design, event planning, food-making, writing, dance, your dress sense, humour, gardening, gift-giving, email-writing, excuse-making, suitcase-packing, dish-stacking. It all requires some form of creative engagement. There is no difference between the side of building or an A4 page, it is how you engage that surface and which one presents itself first. I have been working inside on a smaller scale lately because that’s the space I have to work with, but things might change again in the new year, and I am open to that experience when it comes.
Your work in Nine Lives clearly illustrates that you’ve perfected the art of painting cats! Why did you decide to focus on this furry subject?
The truth is I have been the crazy cat lady since I was six. Creative block also had a lot to do with it. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of artist I should be, what would look best, what would the neighbours say? Every time I looked at a blank canvas or blank wall I would freeze up because the burden of trying to accommodate every possibility was killing the process. I was leaning towards painting murals at the time and couldn’t think of anything to put up and a friend simply said, “Draw what you love”. The first thought was I love my cat, Bitey. Instead of agonising over the finer details of what it all means, I went with it. This process has really helped me to work more intuitively. The first thought is usually the best one.
You lived in Japan for two years. How did this influence your style?
While living in Aomori, I took part in as many traditional workshops and experiences as I could and shodō (calligraphy) really stuck with me. I loved working with the ink and brushes and made a point of using them as often as I could. Japanese Budō is an overarching concept of a path of discipline, practice, personal development and respect. I really appreciate those values and try my best to implement them in my daily life. I was really influenced by the simple and elegant design of wood block prints, the need for harmony, and above all, respect for nature, be it animal, plant or human.
Which local illustrators would you most love to collaborate with, and why?
This is a really difficult one to answer because there are so many to choose from. I love seeing what my long-lost art school friends are up to and would definitely put Lauren Mulligan up there for a collab. I love how playful and fresh her daily drawings are. Pony of the Sea’s illustration really speaks to me and I also have such a crush on Nina Torr’s mysterious and strange art. I admire the way she has brought illustration into the gallery space.
Any exciting projects coming up?
I am going to Iceland in search of new ideas early next year, so that’s exciting for me. I rely a lot on nature and silence to inform new creative directions. I will also be heading to London with some exciting new work in 2020, but some of that is still emerging from the Cosmic Lucky Bag, so I will update on that as it happens. I plan on revisiting a lot of my favourite platforms too, such as Comic Con Africa, Fan Con, and if there’s time, I would like to do some First Thursday exhibiting. Most importantly, I have finally committed to launch my online store. So many people have asked about it and I can’t keep procrastinating and watching cat videos, so that will be happening very soon as well.