Hair sketches exhibited at Greenpoint Gallery

When she’s not DJing, tour managing The Strokes, or hanging out in Brooklyn, Greenpoint resident Julie Bernouis makes portraits of her loved ones… from strands of their own hair! Taking someone’s photograph might mean stealing their souls, but taking someone’s hair is quite literally stealing one’s entire element – the DNA.

Intrigued by this intimate form of capturing people, I asked Julie to share her concept behind her work, who’s also been showcased in our beloved Greenpoint Gallery for a group exhibition this past December prior to the fire incident.

GP: Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is Julie Bernouis. I’m French but I lived in London for about 13 years before finally landing in New York. I like to touch a lot of creative areas. It makes me ridiculously unfocused but I do love it and I guess this is who I am! I DJ, book bands and tour manage as well as making music on top of making artwork.

I am DJing in East Village on Sunday… If you don’t have a date, you can be my Valentine! Haha! I can’t remember if I ever DJed here in Greenpoint but would love to. There are a lot of great places here to listen to music. St Vitus, Aviv and the Manhattan Inn? And the Oak & Iron has got a mean jukebox!

GP: How long have you been living in Brooklyn? And Greenpoint specifically? What drew you to this neighborhood?
I’ve moved to New York 4 years ago on February 21st! I’ve always lived in Brooklyn. Greenpoint was actually my first home for 3 months. I moved in with Jenny Eliscu who works at Sirius XM. I met her via a common London friend; then I left for East Williamsburg in a studio by myself. Then I learnt something… I learnt… that I don’t like living by myself! Haha! SO after a year, I finally came back where I started, some 2 and a half years ago. I was homeless and had decided to move and the day- literally 5 minutes after all hopes had left me to find a place to live on time for my moving out date, the universe heard me and a close friend of mine asked me if I wanted to move into his house in Greenpoint.

I love Greenpoint. It has kept a beautiful sense of community and neighborly life, it’s got character and the old fashioned stamp of residential areas. We have trees (yay!) despite being so near commuter’s paradise. You can still shop in a local shop or standard supermarket but enjoy a nice brunch or a rock gig down the road, or get an organic juice in the jungle cafe. It’s a peaceful cocktail. Definitely a nice retreat from the madness.

Hair sketches exhibited at Greenpoint Gallery
Hair sketches exhibited at Greenpoint Gallery

GP: What is the concept behind your hair portraits?
The philosophy that guides the project is based on a scientific protocol almost. I wanted to create something that was the closest thing to a DNA test. How can I make the truest and most accurate portrait of someone? I felt like taking an actual part of a human being and putting it on paper was the most authentic way to represent them. That’s everyone’s aim to catch a look – a dream behind a pair of eyes, a faint smile on someone’s mouth by drawing them and catching a glimpse of their soul and personality.

But literally taking a part of them is next level. After that, I guess I felt like I could only portrait people I really loved. Cause it’s so personal. So I only make hair sketches of friends and family. It’s funny, when I ask for their hair, some of them get creeped out and then they realize I’m not doing voodoo or anything weird. Haha! The portraits look like them.

With time, I also realized that if I closed my eyes I could still “draw” them from scratch with perfection. I usually pick a good photo and follow it but half-way through the process I get lost in them, and I can just screen grab their face in my memory and go from there. A memory that isn’t the one I had in front of me seconds ago. The first time that happened it made me feel so happy and I kept smiling. And the portraits were better. They all had that very intimate quality. More and more. They didn’t need much work nor much material, one line was everything and brought the whole facial expression to life. Those portraits don’t take that long to make and it’s funny how better I am at doing this than standard drawing! I’m better at glueing hair guys! OK, this is what I do. Weird skill.

Also, on top of being very satisfying to be surrounded by my loved ones, I find it a very therapeutic way of spending my time. Like most art making or creative process, it gives you peace.

GP: How long have you been doing this and what brought you on to it?
I’ve been doing this for 85 weeks apparently! Instagram says… Hold on, how many months is that? OK, it’s been a year and a half I guess. I went to the Frieze Art Fair with my artist collective (Con Artists) and I saw some very interesting pieces. I saw some tapestries and embroideries that had very modern sexual subjects and everything seemed made out of threads and lines. Around the same time I went to DIA: Beacon and I got into Fred Sandback’s string installations which I found mesmerizing. I also had come across some installations using big chunks of hair in Bushwick.

I have a tendency to have weird ideas and wanting to use strange material. So at that time, it was all a thin line. Literally. And I first thought… what if I hand sew with my hair? Then I changed my mind and thought… what if I made a portrait of myself with my hair?? A new type of auto-portrait. And that’s how it developed. I never went through with that portrait with my own hair. My first attempt was more than poor. I had the right idea but the wrong process. So I left that one undone but I moved on to doing other people. I need to get back to that I guess. But I don’t especially like to be the subject!

Hair sketches exhibited at Greenpoint Gallery
Hair sketches exhibited at Greenpoint Gallery

GP: What is your creative process typically like? What kind of mediums do you enjoy the most?
I never went to art school so for me it starts by a crazy idea and then it’s a case of trial and error. I end up making ink transfers on wood, or embroidering sexual body parts onto canvas. It’s all a learning curve for me. I think I am more about the process and the meaning of the exercise than the beauty of it. My artwork is never the type of artwork you put on the wall easily.

I also do make more traditional artwork like watercolors or drawings- that’s how I started when I was 15. I usually concentrate on these when I am upset or angry cos I need to be so focused that I can’t think of anything else. I also love taking photographs. But again it’s more about reporting emotions and people’s lifestyle than going into a studio to shoot a pretty face or a gorgeous body. Or take a photo of an amazing sunset (although have you ever managed to take a photo of a sunset that gives it justice??!). I don’t underrate photographs like that, whose subjects are beautiful but I’m more interested in emotions than how perfect the light and techniques are. I guess I’m a photojournalist!

GP: Tell me about your exhibition at Greenpoint Gallery?
The Greenpoint Gallery exhibition was a group exhibition I took part of in December. I showed 5 of my hair portraits. 1 big one that had just finished two days ago and 4 smaller ones. They were all portraits of my friends, including my friends Emily and Alex who live with me in the house. They actually were the first people I “drew”. They came along.

The Greenpoint Gallery unfortunately was the victim of a fire a few weeks ago, so I think they are not opened right now. It’s a community based space. Which is what I like about it. So there were maybe 50 artists showing. Unfortunately, no one tagged the material used for the portraits so I think the viewers were probably very underwhelmed by my “minimal graphite sketches”. Haha! But I was very happy to show my work. It’s always a pleasure. And I’m very grateful.

To see more on Julie, you can see her or check out her weekly DJ mix!

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