Julie Tucker-Demps, a New Orleans native, made her way to Atlanta in 1994. Although she studied art at Delgado Community College in Louisiana, her art career didn’t take off until she arrived in Atlanta. I sat down with Julie in her home studio to hear about the unlikely events that led to her being a member of the Castleberry Group, her inspirations, and how it feels to see her artwork on a television show set in New Orleans.
AAR: Tell me about your relationship with art. How did you get started?
Julie Tucker-Demps (JTD): I’ve always had a pencil in my hand, since as far back as I can remember. As a child, I would use art as a form of escape. If my mom grounded me, I would be in my room and find myself pouting, but I would pout with a pencil. I still remember Ms. Houston, my third grade teacher. She could tell that I had an issue with my temper, but that I enjoyed art. So, she appointed me to be in charge of all the bulletin boards for all the holidays. It was her way of giving me an outlet for something I enjoyed doing, which gave me hope that I could really do this. I accumulated a great deal of images growing up, but I didn’t take it seriously.
AAR: When did you start to take your artwork more seriously?
JTD: I was 29, going on 30, that age where you panic, “What am I going to do?” I knew then if I didn’t do it, I wasn’t going to. I had served for my country. I had been in the Navy. I had been married and had my daughter. I was still finding myself, you might say. This was the only thing I hadn't tried, and it was the only thing I knew I wanted to do. I had my accident in the early 90’s and I was unable to walk for a while, which gave me a lot of time to decide to do this. After I recuperated from my accident, I enrolled in Delgado Community College as a Fine Art major. My last year of school, 1994, was kind of crazy. I was in the process of doing something crazy like getting remarried, and everything was leading me here to Atlanta. My daughter was in Atlanta and I wanted to be where she was. That’s what brought me back to Atlanta in 1994.
AAR: What happened after you moved to Atlanta?
JTD: I had no great expectations where Atlanta was concerned, because I didn’t know anything. No great expectations, no great let downs! Believe it or not, I was getting my phone turned on with BellSouth and the operator turned out to be an artist. He had me on hold for so long that he had to talk to me. He asked me what I did, and I said I was an artist. He was like, “Me, too!” I thought he was BSing me, but we started chatting and he mentioned the name of an art gallery here in Atlanta and said he would give the owner my name. And he did! That’s that lady over there, pictured in the front with her head down there, Barbara Reed. She formed a group of myself, Janine Jackson, and Michael Angelo Chester, called the Castleberry Group. She gave me my first art show here in Atlanta at the Visual Images Design Studio in the Castleberry district of downtown. The exhibition was in the February 1997 Edition of Art Business News magazine. My first art exhibit and I was a featured artist in a major art magazine! It was really mind blowing. I was like, “I’m going places.”
Portrait of Barbara Reed
AAR: You’re still going and BellSouth isn’t there anymore!
JTD: Yeah, that’s how it all started. It was a series of things, being in the right place and doing the right thing. Rance Curry was the name of the BellSouth guy. I have his art in my collection.
AAR: It was very generous of Curry to pass your name along. There are two different schools of thought within any profession, you can either pay your experience and knowledge forward, or hold onto to it.
JTD: I would say honestly, I've been blessed. From that conversation, I was a signed artist. Through that contract, I met established artists here in Atlanta. I hadn’t even been here one year, and I had an exhibition. It was mind blowing, because I was just coming into the art world. I didn't know anyone or anything. Honestly, I was so naive and so quiet. I was just soaking up everything. I had to learn how to listen. As long as I was humble and willing to listen to people who were willing to share, I grew. From that, of course I have to give back. I have to tell you what happened, because people will fantasize and romanticize your story and it’s just a series of fortunate incidents.
AAR: What three words would you use to describe your art?
JTD: Spiritual. Serenity. Peace. I have been told you can meditate to my work, and I do it. I don’t even think about it and I find myself doing that. It’s so soothing.
AAR: What or who has been the biggest inspiration for your art?
JTD: In my genre, I would have to say the Impressionists. Monet, of course. I have never met anyone in my generation that did it for me, that drew me to them in the way that Monet did. While I was at Delgado, I had the opportunity to see Monet at the New Orleans Museum of Art. I was like, “I have to learn how to do this!” My spirit leaped in my body. It changed my life. I didn’t finish college, so I would go to the library. I needed to grow as an artist, and I used every tool I could put in my hands. Now that we have all this technology, YouTube and I are very good friends. From the Internet, I began studying Art History. There are other artists that convey the essence and emotion in something, truly capturing the motion in a moment. Turner and Constable’s landscapes are not impressionistic, by any means, but the message in their moments is something that I want to calm my work down to. Reaching that level of serenity in my work is my future goal. I have not had a day where I say to myself, “I’m going to quit” or “I’m going to stop.” I’ve always drawn, that’s all I’ve ever known to do.
AAR: What is the hardest part of the creative process for you? Or the easiest?
JTD: The hardest part is getting the supplies. At Delgado, I was drawn to oils, but then I saw the price of a tube of oil. I was like, “Oh my god! Leave it to me to fall in love with something that is going to bankrupt me!” So, the downer is the financial commitment, and the sacrifices of your finances, and not selling. How about just not selling! For me, having an injury and having served in the Navy, I have a source of income that I can balance my life with, but it’s still hard. You might say the hard part comes early, you see what it's going to be about, and you compromise and sacrifice. I refuse to take on that title, “Starving Artist.” I’ve been broke, but I was broke before I was an artist, so that wasn’t anything new. I was just fulfilling something I’ve always wanted to do, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I know what I’m going to do the rest of my life.
The easiest part is allowing myself to just create. It’s very easy for me, being alone and just flowing. I could flow forever. In the early days, I would do paintings on my deck, looking at the tree line of Stone Mountain, and the rest would just come to me. I think it’s important to allow myself to continue to create. As I grow, I know I’m only getting better, so I look forward to that. I’m not bored by any means. I work in different mediums, and I can bounce from watercolor to pastels, and back to my oils.
Thankfully, I have a partner that supports and loves me. She genuinely loves what I do, and that makes all the difference. I was told that relationships would never work as an artist, because there would always be someone knocking at your door, and asking what you’re doing and trying to fit in. However, when the right person came along, I was fine. My partner and I have been together for fourteen years.
AAR: How is being a working artist in Atlanta different than New Orleans?
JTD: It was amazing to me that I was outside of New Orleans period. The dream was to be an artist right there at Jackson Square every morning, and just live my life at Jackson Square. Katrina changed a lot of things about my future plans where New Orleans was concerned. You might say I put it out of my mind. To be successful in Atlanta was very surprising to me. I would have gotten support at home, but that wasn't what I needed. I needed someone to help me, someone who didn’t know me based on my dad, my mom, my uncles, or anyone else. I did go back to New Orleans in 1999, and I was welcomed beautifully. I was hosted by Faubourg Marigny Bookstore on Frenchman Street, in the French Quarter. They hosted myself and five other artists. It was during Mardi Gras and it made the paper. It was really great. My art instructor from Delgado, Walter Johnson, came out. He was so proud of me. While in class, he told me about how a lot of artists start and then get frustrated by life and family, and then they quit. I remember saying to myself, right there, in that classroom, “I’m not quitting.” I was already thirty and there was no way I was going to quit. So, for him to see that I had not quit, that I had pursued it to the point that I had come back with work of volume, that was really wonderful.
Atlanta has been very good to me, but I’ve always had to be right here. I have never had to be knocking on doors asking if people would look at my artwork, and for that I’m very thankful.
AAR: How did you hear about Action Artwork Rental? Why did you decide to sign up?
JTD: You reached out to me! I wasn’t doing anything!
AAR: It’s funny because I had never, at that point and haven’t since, reached out to anybody that I didn’t know personally. I kept seeing your work, and I was like, “You know what? She might think I’m crazy, because we weren’t totally established then, but I’m just going reach out to her, and if nothing happens from it, then nothing happens from it.” I want to hear it in your words.
JTD: I was approached by you around the holidays. I was cautious of online approaches, because I’ve been approached many of times. You saw how I was, like who are you and what do you do again? Because what you were saying to me was blowing my mind, and I was like, “There’s no way this lady wants to put my artwork in the movies!” So that’s why I was apprehensive, but once we met, and I saw it was legitimate, I was excited and looked forward to it. I still am very excited about it. It’s fun! I've already done the work. See! You do the work and the opportunity will present itself!
AAR: It made me feel very good that the one person that I reached out to had their work rented and sold to the film industry.
JTD: It’s a fate thing. I’m a faith walker. I’m not going to pretend I have some secret. Girl, I’ve been winging it from the beginning. I know what I want to do with my life, and it’s meant to happen.
People spend their whole lives doing things for money and they do it poorly. They live a life that is monetarily successful, but inward, and spiritually, they are dead. I just want the flip side of that. I may never be rich, but I’ll be rich, and that is what is important to me. True prosperity and being happy, and then that happiness goes to others, because it's genuine. I try to take a little part of me, and things that are important to me, with me. I’m only going to do this once.
I have one child, she’s twenty-eight and she's a singer. She knows her mom is doing things in front of her to give her inspiration, to not quit on your dreams. Never stop believing in yourself! It’s going to get hard, but do it if you really want to do it. Bump the world and what they say!
AAR: You’ve rented and sold a few of your pieces through AAR to a TV show called The Originals. Is it exciting to know that your work will be seen by thousands of viewers who may not have normally been exposed to your work?
JTD: Yes! Hell yes! It’s beyond words.
AAR: The set decorator for The Originals was very interested in having your work on the show, specifically because you are from New Orleans. Does having your work on set for a TV show set in New Orleans bring special meaning to the experience?
JTD: More than you will ever know. It’s one thing to daydream, but I couldn’t have made this up. I’m very grateful. I’m very thankful. Being that it is set in New Orleans, and that I am attached to something that is home for me, is very special. What I’m pretending to do on TV, that’s all I ever really wanted to do.
AAR: You were also able to come on set, as an extra, for a scene they were shooting to look like the Jackson Square Market in New Orleans. Tell me about that experience.
JTD: It’s surreal. My dreams have come through the eye of something make believe. It’s all art and art is helping me bring my dreams to fruition. One of the other extras said, “Oh you’re a real artist?” Yeah. I’m for real. Here’s my card. You keep living and you come full circle.
AAR: The film and television industry is its own art form. Have you ever been inspired by a film or television show? If so, please describe.
JTD: Bob Ross' The Joy of Painting. Anyone who knows what I’m talking about is probably grinning, but I’m being serious. My mother was a single parent, so there wasn’t any extra money. I went to school on Saturday morning with Bob Ross. He was my joy, and he had a 'fro! Could he be a brother? (laughs)
AAR: If your art were a film, what film would it be?
JTD: I don’t know of a title, but it would be a renaissance film. Definitely a girly movie. Romantic. Black and white. Film Noir.
AAR: What is on the horizon for Julie Tucker-Demps?
JTD: When I was in New Orleans in 2015, I was approached by the son of a local entertainer by the name of Bo Dollis. He was the Big Chief in the Wild Magnolias. He passed away in 2014. His son is carrying on his legacy, and talked to me about doing a portrait of his father for a festival in April of 2016. I’ve got the composition down, as a sample of what i’m going to paint. This is in graphite pencil, and I’m using a graphing technique, which will give me preciseness in what I’m trying to achieve.
My baby brother, who was handicapped, passed away in February 2015. I had been praying about how to get beyond this grieving process, and what to do with this energy. So, I’ve been quietly doing portraits and giving them away to autistic parents and children. I’ve also done a cancer survivor, leukemia survivor, and a young lady, a little angel. I’ve been giving these away and blessing people who have been really struggling in different areas of their life, with disabilities and such. In that area, I’m sensitive. I know it will be accepted and no one will be taking advantage of me. It will be appreciated. I’ve been giving and giving and I’ve been getting a lot back. I’ve got a commission of this lady from Baltimore who also supported me by purchasing a piece of my work. I’ll be doing her wedding portrait. Give it away. It will come back.
I’m also looking forward to summer 2016. I want to travel. I may go to Baltimore or Florida. I’ll take my little one with me and we’ll go some place we haven’t been. Sell some art for a few months. See some different parts of the country. Take some photos and get some inspiration.
That's a wrap!
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