A brush with... Isaac Julien

An in-depth interview on the artist's influences and cultural experiences, from Aimé Césaire to Glenn Ligon

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Isaac Julien. Photo © Thierry Bal
Isaac Julien. Photo © Thierry Bal
A brush with...

In this podcast, based on The Art Newspaper's regular interview series, our host Ben Luke talks to artists in-depth. He asks the questions you've always wanted to: who are the artists, historical and contemporary, they most admire? Which are the museums they return to? What are the books, music and other media that most inspire them? And what is art for, anyway?

In this episode of A brush with..., Isaac Julien talks to Ben Luke about his influences, from art to literature, music and film, and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work.

Julien's films and video installations are often swooningly beautiful, and always deeply engaged in diverse cultural histories, reflecting on, among other things, diaspora and Blackness, queer identity and the movement of people. His work actively involves other art forms, and is often produced from collaborations with choreographers and actors.

Isaac Julien's O que é um museu? / What is a Museum? (2019) © Isaac Julien. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

He responds repeatedly to the art, literature and cinema of the past, but is also pushing video installation into new territory, using multiple screens—sometimes as many as ten—to create fractured narratives which envelop the viewer, encouraging distinctive readings of the complex stories he tells, and constantly expanding the frames through which we see his subject matter.

Isaac Julien's Pas de Deux No. 2 (Looking for Langston Vintage Series) (1989/2016). © Isaac Julien. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

He discusses the epiphany of seeing Max Beckmann at the Whitechapel Gallery, his admiration for Peter Doig, Stan Douglas and Glenn Ligon, the influence of poets including Aimé Césaire and Derek Walcott, the architect Lina Bo Bardi, the cultural scene in London when he began his film-making journey in the 1980s, and discovering, in his archive, his student photographs of early 1980s protests against police brutality—images that he had forgotten he had even taken. Plus, he answers our familiar questions, including the ultimate one: what is art for?

Paradise Omeros, 2002. © Isaac Julien. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi—A Marvellous Entanglement, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, until 27 Feb 2022; Territories (1984) and Paradise Omeros (2002) feature in Life Between Islands: Caribbean British Art 1950s-Now, Tate Britain, until 3 April; Two of Julien's portraits feature in Black American Portraits at Lacma, until 17 April; His film Leopard (2010) features in Family: Visions of a Shared Humanity, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, until 13 February; Lessons of the Hour (2020) is shown in Social Work II, Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, London, until 18 December.

A brush with… series 7 runs from 17 November-15 December 2021, with episodes released on Wednesdays. You can download and subscribe to the podcast here. This episode is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects.