Your instant reaction to the works of Australian artist Julia deVille may be that her be-jewelled taxidermy animals are deeply unsettling and macabre. Or, you may think her work is so freakishly beautiful it deserves the numerous contemporary art awards she receives.
DeVille says her “ethical taxidermy” is a celebration of the life of the animals she preserves, then decorates with gems. She uses only creatures that have died naturally. Her sculptural assemblages, jewelry and objects d’art are inspired by Renaissance, Baroque and Victorian themes.
Judges who awarded deVille the 2019 Nillumbik Prize for Contemporary Art said her winning work (above) captured the “poignancy of mortality and memento mori … transcending morbidity with resonant beauty.” [memento mori is the ancient practice of reflection on mortality that goes back to Socrates]
DeVILLE GETS HATE MAIL
As her reputation as a rising art star solidified, deVille’s public critics multiplied. “I’ve had anger and hate mail when people see my work,” she told an interviewer. “They’ll say, I hope the same thing happens to you, or I hope someone taxidermies you, or I hope you die.” Still, she has 10s of thousands of fans, 20,000 on Instagram alone.
Her latest major work has triggered the fiercest outcry. This baby giraffe died 35 years ago in an Australian zoo, and was being kept in a freezer to preserve it. DeVille says it took four years for her to acquire the body and six years to decide how to execute the installation, titled Mother is my Monarch. The work gained her a nomination for Australia’s prestigious Ramsay Art Prize in 2019.
Full description of materials: 18ct gold, 18ct white gold, sterling silver, bronze, gold plate, black rhodium plate, Akoya pearls, freshwater pearls, rose-cut diamonds 6.05ct, rose cut black diamonds 0.67ct, uncut diamond granules 150ct, setting from ex-husband’s engagement ring (18ct white gold, rose-cut diamonds 0.33ct). The giraffe triggers extreme reactions, including these representative examples.
When she first became known for jewelled taxidermy, her infamous mouse brooch, made of a mouse head with diamond eyes mounted on a jet plaque, caused ripples when it was released in 2002 (above, left). Her work is more sophisticated now, but the ripples continue.
SHE CHANGED HER NAME
DeVille did not like her original last name, so she changed it (reflecting Disney’s Cruella de Vil). At 37, she is a self-labelled eccentric who has arranged to donate her body to a German institute that “plastinates” human remains and puts them on display for science. (see her speak about plastination on this Australian TV interview.)
Not all deVille’s taxidermy animals wear jewelry, and clearly, not all reactions are negative. The piece (below) which won her the 2013 Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize was unadorned and also voted as the Viewer’s Choice Award. The Woollahra prize, previously awarded to some of Australia’s best contemporary artists, is viewed as a predictor of success.
Born in New Zealand, deVille’s artwork is backed by her studies in gold and silversmithing, gemology and taxidermy. Her works are held in public and private collections in Australia, New Zealand, France, China and the USA.
Selected published comments and reviews, on an Art Junkie page, here.
Julia deVille’s website, here.
Her Instagram, here.
An artist profile and CV, here.
Represented by Sophie Gannon Gallery, here.
A feature on the house/gallery she just sold for over $1 million, here.
She also has a huge inventory of non-taxidermy rings and other jewelry, here.