Better by design

Designer Julia Kubica flexes her fine art muscle in Sprout

If you’ve been around Atlanta’s maze of art and culture long enough, you’ve run into the work of designer and artist Julia Kubica. Most likely you didn’t even know it. Kubica’s been producing design work for Atlanta’s art world, in addition to other clients, for the past decade and has made major contributions to the scene’s look and feel.

Kubica also has another side that emerges occasionally, and she explores it in Sprout, the current exhibition of plant-inspired art at Kibbee Gallery curated by Anne-Marie Manker. But as the artist reports, splitting time between design for clients and making fine art with no guarantee of a sale or even an audience can be a stretch, particularly in the current economic climate.

“It’s hard to find work,” says the 31-year-old, “and it’s hard to justify artwork, for me.” Kubica speaks in a quiet but insistent voice as she walks through the rooms of Kibbee Gallery shortly before the opening of Sprout. It’s a problem many artists confront: how to feel like a “real” artist when real life is constantly getting in the way.

“I come from a practical family,” Kubica says. “My mom is a scientist and my stepdad is a geophysicist.” Kubica says that although her parents, who immigrated from Poland and found their way to Dallas, Texas, never stifled her creativity, they also instilled practicality and realism in their children. That practicality paid off in Kubica’s BFA in graphic design from Georgia State.

Since graduation, the designer has been producing a steady stream of work both within and without Atlanta’s art world. She has churned out print collateral for galleries such as Marcia Wood and the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, custom wedding invitations, and logo and identity packages for artists and photographers.

Kubica was also instrumental in the design of the rococo, tattoo-esque Young Blood Gallery and Boutique logo, a design six years in the making. “They knew what they wanted,” Kubica says of Young Blood’s proprietors. “For years they were trying to make that logo.” Kubica worked with the gallery off and on over the years, maturing as a designer while the gallery also matured. “By the time they had more experience, I had more experience,” she says, and the highly recognizable logo of swirls and banners was born.

With frequent collaborator Karen Tauches, Kubica has designed and produced several exhibition catalogs as well. She and Tauches documented the Fulton County Arts Council public art program, 2005’s Art in Freedom Park, and Angelbert Metoyer’s show of paintings at Sandler Hudson Gallery.

Kubica’s work also extends into the music world. She has done a number of logos and T-shirt and flier designs for Atlanta indie rock fixtures the Selmanaires. It so happens that the group’s drummer, Jason Harris, is Kubica’s boyfriend, and she has become the group’s go-to designer for schwag and band gear.

All this art-focused design came about more or less by accident. Kubica insists she didn’t plan it this way, but instead found herself getting jobs from those in her social circle, many of whom were artists and assorted gallerists, musicians and other art world cognoscenti.

It was something her undergraduate experience prepared her for, too. The majority of Kubica’s work was in graphic design, but the artist’s eye never strayed far from fine art. “I took as many art classes as I could,” she says, recalling the tense pull she often felt between the two disciplines. “Half the time I did stuff I really liked and the other half of the time I did stuff that would be more reliable, more sustainable.”

Kubica’s practicality continues to serve her well. It’s indispensable in meeting client demands for design work. But she admits that this same practicality can be a barrier when she attempts to shift into an art-making frame of mind.

“It’s hard for me because I don’t do it that often,” she says. “I just have to relax a little, let myself dream, and make space for it. It is an outlet for me … even though it’s a little stressful. I work and then come home and I do artwork and a lot of time I feel like, ‘Hurry up and be creative. Hurry up and figure out what this masterpiece is.’ This pressure is really hard to work with.”

But she welcomed the challenge from Kibbee Gallery when Manker asked her last January to participate in the current show. “When Anne-Marie asked me, of course I was going to take this opportunity to do something. It got me excited to use that muscle again.”

Sprout features four artists, all of whose work is inspired by organic forms and the imagery of nature. Kubica joins Kelly Cloninger, Katherine Gaddy and Pam Rogers in the exploration of works on paper.

“I was inspired by a Native American creation myth,” she explains, referencing one of her four works in the show. The image, TITLE, like all of Kubica’s works in the show, is made up of two layers: a top layer of white Mylar, intricately cut with weblike patterns culminating in arboreal imagery near the top of the frame, and a second layer of bright but earthy colors — copper, phthalo green, magenta — peeking through the cut paper.

“I focus on cutting these intricate shapes, which is really meditative for me,” she says of her process. “And I really enjoy doing it, even though it’s really laborious and it looks painful, and sometimes it is. That’s the part I love doing.

“I’m inspired by nature daily,” she continues. “Even if I’m driving, there’s always some tree limb that I think is spectacular, that I’m inspired by.”

When asked how she sees herself moving forward, about what it means to think of herself as an artist, Kubica focuses on the near-term. “Right now, it’s just like one step at a time, trying to ease into stability and still have flexibility. … It’s a delicate balance.”

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