Over the past months, Julia Campbell-Gillies has started popping up in my Instagram feed. Messy fringe and heart-shaped lips, the South African model and artist has a talent for looking bored and totally enigmatic at the same time. But it’s not just the dazed stare that draws you in. Julia studies Art Direction at Condé Nast and is acutely aware of the message she puts across, collaborating only with photographers whose artistic vision she trusts. Striving to shake up the confines of femininity from within, she is more likely to juxtapose nudity with a healthy dose of awkwardness, a female photographer adjusting the lens, than bow to the sexual explicitness of the male gaze.
Wonderland spoke to the 19 year old burgeoning creative about vision, artistic collaboration and the inspiring women she has encountered along the way.
What have you been up to today?
I attended an inspiring lecture on sustainability in the fashion industry by the CEO of the Ethical Fashion Foundation, Tamsin Lejeune.
You’re a model and a visual artist. Do the two worlds intertwine?
Of course they do! They are both fundamentally visual and experiential. I love modelling because of the artistic collaboration aspect of it.
How did you become a model?
Who the hell knows! Actually, I was scouted from my Matric Dance – prom – pictures by a local agency. Modelling had never occurred to me prior to being scouted.
Why did you want to study Art Direction at Condé Nast?
I’m quite aware of the importance of any artist establishing a signature aesthetic, when you’re an Art Director you can collaborate with the photographers and stylists and slowly build an eye for the spectrum of styles you experience.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m always working on my book – a prose novel I’ve been writing for about three years – and a tapestry. And my manners and ability to communicate with humans who aren’t female. Oh, and not getting lost. I’m the patron saint of getting lost.
How does your artistic background influence your approach to modelling?
I’m more cognisant of the codes of female body language – with regard to our societal constructs and theories like the male gaze – thanks to my art education. For a long time, it made me feel terribly guilty for cashing in on the what simultaneously oppresses me, but I’ve outgrown that anxiety now. I think in a lot of cases oppression and empowerment are attitudes apart.
You work in watercolour, embroidery and contour drawing. What attracted you to those mediums?
I like being underestimated and media that is twee and kind of boring. It’s part of establishing my identity within the framework of femininity. I want to take people by surprise, always. I want to take shelter in the confines of what it is to be a woman. Slight, soft-spoken, comforting art is what makes the most sense to me right now.
In what way does fashion inspire you visually in your art?
As a model, I spend a lot of time thinking and waiting, contemplating the idea of “a woman’s work” and the intricacies of passivity. I’ve also met some incredible women who really inspire me, like Kristin Vicari, Jeanie Annan-Lewin, Francesca Allen, Georgina Graham, Marie Jacoupy, Laura Kampman, Marta Marques, and all of the amazing lecturers at college. I also like to work meticulously in creating something visually flat and superficial.
I have heard you only work with certain photographers. What is the reasoning behind that?
That makes me sound like a brat! I am a brat. I’m so fussy about with whom I work, because I have featured in quite embarrassing pictures before and with age I have grown to realise that the internet is a kind of indelible tattoo on the universe and bad photos of you are still photos of you.
What inspires you at the moment?
The idea of home, coming of age, emotional tides and flowers. Always flowers.
You’re a South African living in London. How would you compare the city to your home country?
I wouldn’t. There’s little to nothing in common between South Africa and London. I just got here and I feel totally alien. London is manic and dirty and frantic. It’s evil and enchanting. I don’t understand why no one leaves, but the longer I’m here I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
This interview was originally published in Wonderland.