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Capturing a bygone Essex

PUBLISHED: 09:39 29 April 2014 | UPDATED: 09:39 29 April 2014

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Shenfield artist Julia Austin-Brenes explains why she explores the Essex coastline in search of inspiration for her retro artwork. Andrew Butcher reports

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Artist Julia Austin-Brenes has lived in Essex all of her life and currently lives in Shenfield, but that hasn’t stopped her avid interest in some of the county’s quieter seaside towns.

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‘I’m drawn to nostalgia and disappearing ways of life,’ Julia explains. ‘The main theme of my work is decaying urban and seaside sites, nostalgia and alternative lifestyles in the Essex area. I have always had a great interest in Jaywick and its history. In fact, all the traditional coastal resorts provide me with inspiration including St Osyth, Clacton and Southend.’

Faded grandeur is often represented in the theme of Julia’s work and Jaywick’s journey from a booming seaside town — where families escaped the big city for a weekend away — to its perhaps less glamorous present provides the perfect backdrop.

Jaywick Car 1962 is a work which perfectly captures a bygone era, creating an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, especially for those with fond memories of the seaside resort’s heyday. While few will fail to recognise the Rossi Ice Cream kiosk, a must visit during a trip to Southend from where the famous ice cream originates.

‘My subject matter strives to convey a sense of alienation and disenchantment with mainstream culture, reflecting spaces where individuality and self-expression can thrive,’ says Julia.

In fact Julia’s imagery captures such a distinctive connection with the area that her work was chosen to represent the Clacton and Jaywick area during the 2012 Olympic celebrations. Julia’s works were displayed in Hylands Park in Chelmsford as part of Sparks Will Fly, the cultural festival marking the countdown to the Olympic and Paralympic games in Essex.

Besides art, Julia has a keen and active interest in music too, but the passion for the former has given over the later as she gave up teaching music classes in July last year to focus solely on art — well, almost solely. Although Julia’s main focus has shifted to art, music still remains an important part of her life and in part she still teaches saxophone and plays in tribute bands to both The Blues Brothers and The Blockheads.

Musical influences have crossed over into Julia’s artistic pursuits, including her portrayal of The Blockheads lead singer Ian Dury, and a particularly evocative set of images of Sundays in The Railway Hotel in Southend, which regularly draw an emotive response from viewers.

Julia uses oil on canvas and her striking images are often very colourful, which helps create a sense of atmosphere. Not all her images are bright and happy; nostalgia can often reflect a sense of sadness or neglect. ‘It’s about emotion,’ adds Julia, who is keen to see her audience moved by her art.

Julia was one of a number of artists who took part in the made space exhibition at London’s 5th Base Gallery last December and is delighted to be exhibiting at the gallery again this summer.

Find Out More

Julia’s next exhibition will be in the summer at 5th Base Gallery, 23 Heneage Street, London E1 5LJ. Visit www.5thbase.co.uk for details. Anyone interested in Julia’s work can email her at je_austin_brenes@yahoo.co.uk

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