Julie York

When Through 11/12: Fri-Sat 11 AM-8 PM, Sun noon-6 PM

Where SOFA Chicago, Festival Hall, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand, Booth 209

Price $15, three-day pass $25

Info 800-563-7632

Julie York’s eight small ceramic works at SOFA (at the Perimeter Gallery booth) have a conceptual edge, playing with perception and juxtaposing the recognizable with the mysterious. Though her pieces look mass-produced–most elements are cast from manufactured objects or fragments of them, then sanded for hours–they’re obviously not functional. One untitled work looks something like a doorknob, fusing a conical shape with a globular one. On the flat circular face at the end of the cone is a condenser lens that allows you to see a phallic object inside–but the lens shrinks it, creating a perceptual frisson. Incorporating lenses is an outgrowth of pieces York did in grad school, when she began using fish tanks filled with mineral oil to display her ceramic cosmetic containers, female figurines, and breast-shaped cupcakes: she likes the illusions refraction creates, and mineral oil has greater refractive properties than water.

York, who grew up in suburban Toronto and Vancouver, was influenced by the business her father started when she was 13, manufacturing private-label pharmaceuticals and beauty aids. She liked the packaging. “It was just so perfect, smooth, flawless, uniform,” she says. Starting in her midteens she worked on the assembly line: “We’d slap on labels or screw on caps. It was very boring, but fascinating to watch.” For her art she develops a vocabulary of objects, casting the same element dozens of times from a single mold, then using it in different ways. Growing up in suburbia was also an influence. “My work derives from that generic culture,” she says. “The homogenized homes were completely identical–the only thing that was different was the color of the exterior.” While working on her BFA in Vancouver she became interested in consumerism. Creating a mold from a platform shoe she had–in the same style that her mother and grandmother had once worn–she made multiple casts and exhibited them together. Influenced by pop art, her work was brightly

colored. But just after art school she made a piece called Suburbia, four stucco panels each painted a different pale hue, echoing the tiny variations in subdivisions.

York used to think she couldn’t become an artist. “I always thought artists were born, and that if you didn’t know how to draw well you couldn’t become one.” As a dyslexic, she also felt different from other kids. Though she took classes at a community college trying to find a field she was interested in, she says, “I was more interested in going out with friends, going to bars, and snowboarding.” After a few ceramics courses, however, she started to fall in love with the material and learned that “you have to make 100 pots in order to make one good one.” She transferred to art school, and two years after getting a BFA started graduate school at Alfred University, where she received an MFA in 2000. Today she thinks of dyslexia as a “real advantage for me as an artist,” allowing her to understand that “everyone’s perception is unique.”

At Alfred University, York says, she dropped the brightly colored glazes: “I realized these objects were strong enough symbols to stand on their own, and I drained them of color.” After grad school she decided her work was too formulaic and personally motivated and broke all her molds. She moved to Philadelphia, where she lives now, in 2002 and found it ideal for searching out new objects to cast: she’d go to 80-year-old industrial-supply stores and “rummage through upstairs rooms, through things covered in layers of dust.” Four of the works at SOFA consist of objects jumbled in multiple boxes. The tips of some shapes are colored lightly, she says: “pink, flesh colored, shades of grays and blues”–this despite her self-described color phobia. “They mix the industrial and organic looks, but with sensual overtones.”