An interview with Jamian Juliano-Villani


By art21. Can an artist stay inspired day in and day out? Under near constant deadlines for the last four years, painter Jamian Juliano-Villani grapples with the demands of consistently producing new and better work. Her paintings have received widespread attention, including gallery and museum exhibitions, adding to the stresses of growing as an artist. “The main pressure is maintaining integrity and making work that you feel good about,” says the artist, “even under pressure, which is really difficult.” As a teenager in New Jersey, Juliano-Villani recalls watching artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella in the 1973 documentary “Painters Painting,” which inspired her to move to New York City. After taking on a variety of odd jobs—from overnight diner waitress to gymnastics instructor—her romanticized notion of the city changed, but Juliano-Villani has maintained a relentless dedication to advancing her artwork. “You’re only as good as your last painting,” the artist explains, “so each has got to be better.” Painting a new work in her Ridgewood, Queens studio, the artist experiments with images from her vast digital image collection in a search for solutions, looking for the right content and composition to achieve a balance between psychological depth and light humor. When she gets stuck, Juliano-Villani calls upon friend, studio neighbor and 2017 Whitney Biennial artist Ajay Kurian for input. “I really want to push the paintings, but I don’t know how yet,” she says, “Hopefully I’ll figure it out and make them something that they aren’t yet.”


By art21. Where does an artist find relief from the New York art scene? Artist Jamian Juliano-Villani goes on a research trip into Manhattan, prowling two famed New York City institutions—the Strand Bookstore and Times Square—in search of the unpredictable found imagery that fuels her acclaimed paintings. Typically a creature of habit within her Bedford-Stuyvesant work space, Juliano-Villlani knows that putting in the studio time and trawling the internet can only be so inspiring. Seeking source material in the used book carrels at the Strand Book Store, Juliano-Villani says, “It can’t just be the most obvious reference; it should from somewhere specific. And it really only happens in books. On the Internet everything’s everywhere. It feels like it’s more mine, if I get it from a book.” Later Juliano-Villani tours a more unlikely site of creative influence: the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in Times Square, filled with a random assortment of exotica and hoaxes. Mirroring the slippery balance between good and bad taste in her own work, Juliano-Villani is fascinated by how the museum style presentation of these objects blurs the line between low and high culture. For Juliano-Villani, Times Square is a necessary antidote to the pressures of conforming to the art world in which her work resides. “I think anyone that is an artist is constantly feeling the guilt of [the pretensions of art-making] so that’s why I like these other weird elements of life, and especially life in New York,” she says.“No one cares, no one’s looking; you can act however you want, you can be whoever you want.”

Cite this page as: Art21, "An interview with Jamian Juliano-Villani," in Smarthistory, January 14, 2021, accessed May 27, 2024,