Julia deVille has been cast in something of an eerie light during her relatively brief but extremely active artistic career. Merging taxidermy and animal skeletal structures with classic gold- and silver-smithing techniques, her jewellery and her artwork seem ensconced in the spectre of death.
Chat with the New Zealand-born artist, however, and you’ll be left with a very different impression. “People seem to think my work is about death, but I think it’s more about life and about the celebration of life,” she says. “I like combining creatures with these materials that are seen as precious, because it poses a whole new set of questions about the value and preciousness of life. People don’t put value on a mouse, for example, but what happens if you put diamonds in the mouse’s eyes?”
Based around Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven, Deville’s new exhibition Night’s Plutonian Shore – which opens this week at Sophie Gannon Gallery and also features a suite of collaborative works with jeweller William Griffiths and artist Aly Aitken – continues her fascination with Greek and Roman mythology and casts various creatures in the role of psychopomps, the animals that would guide spirits down the river Styx to Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.
The pieces include a diminutive tabby kitten, a stillborn fawn, a diamond-dusted piglet and golden gosling wearing a diamond and white-gold headpiece, which was a friend’s lifelong pet. “She’d raised it from a chick and it actually thought that she was its mother,” deVille says. “So it was all pretty emotional and there was this kind of overwhelming sense of importance to that piece.”
Indeed, for deVille, who has been fascinated with taxidermy since she was child and only works with animals that have died from natural causes, there is nothing more valuable than a life. “It comes back to that question of what’s really precious,” she says. “Like with a stillborn deer, there’s this creature that sort of lost out on having its life altogether – it didn’t even make it – and there’s a preciousness and value to working with a creature like that.”
Julia deVille’s Night’s Plutonian Shore is on show until August 21 at Sophie Gannon Gallery.