Artist Julie Armbruster dresses down society with vivid colors atop her unique brand of gesso. While training in Italy, she realized it wasn’t necessary to kill animals in order to use them as muses.
“I was against most of the typical [gesso] ingredients of, like, rabbit skin glue and fish oil,” Armbruster says. “Besides the smell, it was just totally gross to me.”
Armbruster’s interest in animal rights frustrated her instructor in Venice, who eventually recommended she make gesso with a wheat base using flour as the binder. She took his advice a step further and invented her own concoction instead.
“It’s a special recipe of flour and water and linseed oil and honey. I mix it all together and that makes it work for some reason,” she says. The final result is an encaustic that is compatible with acrylic paint and ink. “Instead of normal gesso where it just holds the surface really still, this will keep the surface moving like oil paints. It’s really fragile at the beginning.”
Such a vitreous foundation is the perfect underpinning for humankind’s foibles, which Armbruster cleverly masks with bright hues, animals and cartoon subjects. The cheery colors temper the latent peculiarities contained in her paintings. They also hint at the artist’s unpretentious sophistication; although she earned her master’s of art in studio art from New York University, Armbruster manages to retain an alluring folk quality that she imparts with equal parts charm and repugnance.
“It kind of throws you back because it’s attractive and revolting at the same time,” she says. “It’s kind of cool in that way.”
Armbruster can make spectators cringe and giggle and nod their heads all at once. The artist coyly portrays feelings everyone feels, but is too afraid—or too debonair—to talk about. For example, her triptych, “Shoot the Freak,” is based on human’s frustration with crowds and the desire for excessive entertainment.
“There’s an attraction at Coney Island called ‘Shoot the Freak’ and basically, once you get tired of all the population density, you get to go over and shoot this guy in a paintball outfit,” she says. “I just looked at it as an interesting concept.”
But Armbruster’s art isn’t limited to the human form: Bunnies are also a recurring theme in her work. Cosmetic testing experiments on rabbits inspired Armbruster to create a wooden altarpiece with a series of hinged doors, which she calls “Preaching to the Converted Altarpiece.” Although the piece is largely a commentary on the process where rabbits are subjected to make-up being spilled into their eyes, Armbruster also claims that there is another message as well: Humans, too, are held captive by the five-day workweek.
“It [the altarpiece] is supposed to be interactive,” she says. “When I showed it the first time, I had t-shirts set up that said ‘touch the hutch’ because it’s kind of like a rabbit hutch. People would be encouraged to touch it, and people would be freaked out.”
Armbruster has a permanent exhibit at the Early Girl Eatery on Wall St. and currently shows with artist Alli Good at Woolworth Gallery on Haywood St. in downtown. Her next show will be at Bobo on Lexington Ave. in December.