When Julia Gutman’s part textile, part oil painting Head in the Sky, Feet on the Ground – depicting singer-songwriter Montaigne – won her the Archibald Prize in 2023, it was a surreal moment for the then 29-year-old.

“It was an incredible experience, but portraiture is not the crux of what I do,” Gutman tells Broadsheet, almost a year since the win. “I want to keep exploring in really different directions.”

One of those directions is animation. “I started out studying animation. And I recently realised the process of a story unfolding in animation is how I make my shows anyway, so [returning to animation is] my big goal for the future.”

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Her first animated project is on an epic scale: Gutman’s patchwork artworks will be mapped onto the Opera House sails for this year’s Vivid Sydney. Her work – Echo – plays with the story of Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection. It’s connected to a theme Gutman explores in all her works – the paradox of the self.

“My work historically has been about the idea that the self is this patchwork of the collective, and that the self doesn’t really exist,” she explains. “I think [the self-awareness] paradox underscores intimacy in all its forms, so [my next show] moves between these beautiful moments of tenderness and moments where we find ourselves in conflict.”

Gutman’s first major show since winning the Archibald Prize is a solo exhibition called Everything You’re Looking at Is Also You. The centrepiece, an artwork with the same title, features multiple Julias – some wielding pitchforks and one tied at the wrists.

“It’s essentially an angry mob carrying a witch off to the gallows,” she says. It’s a reimagining of John Pettie’s Arrest for witchcraft. “Except in my version, I’m all the characters.”

She says it can be read in many ways, but essentially, “it’s a very internalised image of the persecution of the self internally; shame, guilt, victimhood. All of the ways these things operate psychologically, but also mirroring this idea that when we wield the pitchfork outwards, oftentimes we’re dealing with an internal wound ourselves.”

Inside her Woolloomooloo studio, above Artspace, there’s plenty of wall space to hang works in progress. There’s a couch by the window, where her dog often sits during the day; a shelving unit storing rolls of fabrics she’s collected over the years; and drawings and notes on her work desk. “They all start as drawings,” says Gutman.

“A new addition to my studio is this machine called a felt loom. Basically, if the base is wool you can layer cotton and wool onto it and run it through the felt loom and it felts the material into one fabric.” The process from there involves layering fabrics to achieve tones, like a painter would with brushstrokes. She’ll often pin sections and hand sew, and use a sewing machine to achieve the final, beautifully detailed image.

Gutman spent three months abroad at residences in Italy and Miami in 2023. She moved into the new studio in November, and she’s been working flat out ever since. “All of this,” she gestures at the various projects around the room, “is four months working intensively, double full-time, with an assistant, while also working on other projects.”

Working with an assistant has become necessary for such an in-demand artist. “I’ve had help in the past, often one day a week from friends, but this is new. She’s here every day while I’ve been in this crunch mode and I don’t know how I survived before. She’s incredibly calm, organised, methodical. I am none of those things. So having her here is amazing.”

Though Gutman is working more than ever, she appreciates work/life balance. Her ideal would be to treat her art practice as a 9 to 5. “I think it’s important to still keep that cultivated, consistent practice because it really grounds me. I don’t think you can get anything out of the work unless you’re giving everything to the work.

“Having this much space is such a luxury. I’ve always worked at scale, but I’ve never really been able to see the work at scale in the studio. It’s also just a pleasure to be here. It’s probably the nicest studio building in the world.”

Julia Gutman: Everyone You Are Looking at is Also You is at Sullivan+Strumpf, Melbourne, from March 21 to April 27.

Read more in our Studio Visit series.