Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Bri Hammond
In my first interaction with taxidermist and jeweller Julia deVille, my suggestion of an interview after work was politely declined. ‘I’m trying to keep my evenings quiet. I’m recovering from adrenal fatigue, and restful nights are important in my recovery.’ This struck a cord: so often we feel obliged to squeeze as much as we can into each day, ignoring the harmful toll it can take on our bodies, relationships, and even the very creative practice we are striving to propel forward. We forget when we need to say no.
I had to find out what a day for a renowned artist in the throes of a chronic illness would be like. How do you navigate the pressures of daily life with caring for your mental and physical health? What changes need to be made? Most of all, how do you know when those changes need to happen?
On a trip to a trade fair in Vincenza, a glass case containing $100,000 worth of jewellery broke on the way. But Julia also came back completely broken. From then on, Julia tells me it was an energy rollercoaster. A visit to a friend’s birthday would leave her tired for days just from talking to people for two hours. It became clear she was nearing complete burn out when an assistant pointed out she hadn’t had a day off for eighteen months. ‘I just hit rock bottom and realised just because the show stopped, it wasn’t going to slow down.’
Julia deVille is prolific. When studying gold and silversmithing, she simultaneously completed a mentorship with expert taxidermist Ruby Mineur. Stepping into her studio, her fascination with mortality and her acceptance of death decorates every corner. Her work has been exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria, MONA, and Adelaide Biennale, with solo exhibitions at Sophie Gannon Gallery and e.g.etal – a Melbourne jewellery gallery that represents her work.
This year, Julia is making a concerted effort to focus on her health, which recently translated to her having the biggest holiday in years. ‘I’ve been here doing nothing… Going to yoga, walking the dogs, watching lots of stuff on YouTube, catching up with friends one on one, making myself juices, and doing things I don’t normally have time for... It’s nice to have space and time around all of that.’
'I’m still not one-hundred-per-cent… I need to be gentle with myself.' Her thoughtful, calm, and in-the-moment demeanor reminds us that we should all be a little gentler with ourselves.
From an almost daily yoga practice and morning meditations with her team, to how she feels better on a high fruit diet, Julia deVille teaches us the importance of slowing down, asking for help, and knowing it’s okay to say no.
PART I: DAILY ROUTINE
At the moment, I’m sleeping without an alarm so I probably wake up around six or six-thirty, if I’m tired it will be a bit later. When my adrenal fatigue was at its worst, I was probably sleeping till nine or ten or something, but now I am back into a normal routine and going to bed early.
Four to five times a week I do a yoga class and that starts at six-thirty. I pretty much get dressed, take my herbs and jump on my bike to the Ashtanga yoga school in Fitzroy.
I’m on an herbal protocol for three months which is for the adrenal fatigue. I’ve been seeing this herbalist in the states called Dr Robert Morse. He has written up a 14-week protocol where week by week you are on different herbs to try and resolve different issues.
I eat breakfast and watch something. I used to always eat on the go and be in a hurry and I ended up messing my digestion through stress and the adrenal problems so I put a lot of effort into eating and go really slow with it and eat easy to digest vegan food.
For breakfast I will usually just have fruit, and will only have two to three different things in a meal. Breakfast might just be cherries and grapes but it will be like a kilo or more. It just means I can get all of the calories I need but it digests easily and it is kind of a detox food.
I will normally put on YouTube and maybe watch Russell Brand The Trews or some different spiritual teachers that I am interested in, or I will watch Robert Morse as he posts videos quite frequently and they are so informative … I have learned so much as he has been doing this for over 40 years now and he cures MS and cancer, and adrenal problems are easy in comparison.
My assistants normally get here about 9:30. We all meditate together once everyone is in for half an hour. We practice Transcendental Meditation - I have put them all through the TM course as I feel it will help us to work better together as a team.
I would probably get into making my orders. My jewellers do all of the production stuff such as making pieces and assembling them, but I do the one-off pieces like the engagement rings I do for e.g.etal, that kind of thing.
I'd normally sit down and make four or five rings or something for e.g.etal and other private clients. It depends on the piece; if it is an alteration to an existing style, it can be quite quick as I already have a mould. But if it is a fabricated ring it can take hours and hours.
Then Kate, who is kind of like my errand girl, comes in for a couple of hours when we need her and she runs into the city and back to pick up gem stones and run errands, that sort of thing.
Lunch is generally just fruit again. I’m probably on about 80-90% fruit at the moment and then just a small amount of leafy greens. Every now and then I'll do salads for dinner but fruit has a lot more calories so you don't have to eat as much.
Normally for lunch I will probably chop up maybe ten to fifteen peaches and I blend up some banana and some avocado and maybe some spinach and pour that over as a sauce. You end up getting quite creative, first being vegan and then with these other restrictions.
I will go upstairs and make that and just sit down by myself and maybe watch something again. Whereas I used to make a smoothie and be straight back on the computer. But now, mediation and eating take up a fairly big chunk of my day which means I need to be more efficient.
Again I’ll answer some more emails. That has been a big part of my daily job because there are just so many that come in. I spend more time emailing than I spend making stuff, which is what I want to change because it is ridiculous.
The day’s focus really depends on what orders we have. If I have an exhibition coming up everything will be very focused towards that and we will just be in production mode. If it's just a generic day it could be anything from having interviews or having clients come by for fittings.
With my new goals, I’m trying very hard to go and take the dogs for a walk and just sit in the park with my shoes off in the sun. That’s something I’ve never done before.
I make dinner around five or six. I try to eat early as it's easier to digest in time for sleep. At the moment my favourite vegetable dinner is zucchini spaghetti, so I just make a pesto out of parsley, avocado, half an orange and some rocket.
I also make the most amazing ice cream where you freeze bananas overnight and chuck them in a high-speed blender and it becomes the same consistency as ice cream but there is no dairy or eggs. You can add fresh coconut, some ginger or avocado.
It's at the point now where I think I should probably have a salad for dinner, but then I would rather have a banana ice cream! [Laughs]
Again it would just be watching various documentaries or things that I’m interested in. I watch a lot of animal rights documentaries and ethics and environmental programs as they tie into my work quite a lot and I like to get as much information as I can.
I will mediate again. If I do it too close to bed, I don't sleep as it energises me a bit so I try to do that at least an hour before I go to bed. I then feed the dogs and relax. Although there are little interludes of quite mindful parts of the day, it is a busy, full day. If I get a chance (which is very rare) I'll watch a movie or something, read or kick back.
I try to go to bed at nine or ten. I will probably read for half an hour or something … until I start feeling tired. I have this great new alarm clock which is called a Sunrise Clock and the light slowly starts getting warmer and warmer and birds start tweeting. It's a much healthier way to wake up rather than a jarring alarm ... you can also use it to simulate a sunset and it helps release melatonin before you sleep.
PART II: WEEKEND ROUTINE
I used to work seven days a week, and the only difference on the weekend was that I didn’t have assistants. But this year is going to be very different.
I am making a concerted effort to have a weekend. Of course there will be times when I have an exhibition on where things will change a little bit.
On a Sunday I go to yoga, and I like to go to the farmers' market –that is one of my favourite things to do. I love all the interesting things they have there and I get a green juice to drink while I go around. I get as much fruit and vegetables as I can carry on my bike, a backpack and a basket and think, “Oh yeah, I’ve got food for the week now,” and two days later I’ve got to go back!
PART III: BEHIND THE SCENES
On never setting out to be an artist…
I never set out to be an artist. I did a year of fashion and hated that … Then I moved to Melbourne when I was eighteen and did a shoe design course at RMIT and that was very uninspiring and I knew it wasn’t right.
After a year and a half, I started a short jewellery course and on the first day of the first course, I knew I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. I felt this real connection to it. At the same time I started learning taxidermy so I was combining the two and obviously it got a bit of attention because it was unusual.
Because I was working at eg.etal, they invited me to have an exhibition and that got a four-page write up in The Age, and there was a really great response to that show.
It kind of grew like that and there was never any conscious effort … I didn’t even know I was an artist, I was just making things. That’s all I’ve ever really done, is make things that I like, I’ve just been fortunate that other people have responded to it and liked it too.
On the joy of having friends who get you …
I still find big social activities a bit draining. I’m quite introverted, and I prefer to put all of my attention into one person, as I find the dynamics of one-on-one much more engaging.
I have a very small handful of very close friends and we have this dynamic where we can pull out at the last minute if we don’t feel like it. We don’t have to have a reason, you can just say you just want to be on your own.
Because I don’t drink anymore, and I’m kind of picky about my social environments, I don’t want to go somewhere where I have to drink alcohol to enjoy it.
I think it is just an evolution. As you get older you get more comfortable with yourself, and I’m just comfortable in my own company.
On having supportive parents…
I think I’ve always been really lucky in terms of confidence around becoming an artist, as my parents were so supportive of me. My dad is very eccentric and my mum is very open-minded so they always just let me go in that direction.
When I was in highschool, my favourite subjects were the sciences and the arts, and I was really good at maths, physics, and chemistry. But I was at a private girls' school and for my final year they wouldn’t let me do more than one art subject. My parents pulled me out of the girls’ school and put me into a public school so I could do four art subjects and two sciences.
On romantic relationships …
I have had relationships suffer. I’m quite eccentric in a lot of ways – what I do is not normal and my lifestyle is not normal – and I do find a lot of men get almost offended, or they take my persona or my work ethic personally, and find the amount of work that I do difficult.
I was actually married a few years ago and it only lasted nine months but we had been together for two years before that. But that was also just a difference in lifestyle, and we are great friends now.
I’m just so happy on my own at the moment. I feel like I need to get all of my systems into place and have my business in a way that doesn’t require so much from me before I’d even consider having that again.
On allowing things to fall into place…
When you are on the right path there is flow, and whenever you veer off there is resistance. I’ve definitely had resistance along the way. Whenever I’ve tried to pay PR people or invest in a showroom somewhere and spend a lot of money in order to make money, it never actually works.
But then when people come to me – and I just let people come to me – that’s been my most successful relationship. So now I just step back from all of that.
If the business didn’t get any bigger than it is now I wouldn’t have a problem. I would rather keep it to a size that is manageable and still have integrity, than to become massive and be pumping out crap.
On cutting out dairy, wheat, protein and fats …
As with any addiction, once you actually abstain from it for a period of time, you don’t miss it anymore ... It’s just making that commitment and doing the first part.
I’ve always been pretty healthy with my diet so I never had processed sugar or anything anyway, but what I’m doing is extreme, and to cut nuts out was very difficult for me, but I was kind of like, “I need to make a change with this and my health is more important.”
The idea is to do this raw detox, and then be able to reintroduce things back into my diet once the problem resolves … it’s not forever. I’ll always be vegan and I will eat closer to this now because I feel so good, but the aim is to go to restaurants with friends and eat normally.
But I just think it is a values thing, really. It’s about what you value more, and there are so many amazing alternatives out there once you look into it.
If you look into the raw vegan movement, they make cheese out of nuts, they make ice creams out of frozen fruit … they are so creative with it, you can just get inspired from that.
On planning tools…
At the moment I just use my iCal on my phone and computer, but we are going to bring in more stuff like a yearly planner for all of the shows and the deadlines, and another one for staff when they are away, and keep track of that. And also a communication diary where people write in notes for the people the next day to get more cohesion. The lovely girls at e.g.etal have been helping me with these ideas.
On handling emails…
It varies, but I’d say I get maybe up to fifty per day, to the point where if I don’t attend to emails for a day it will take me the whole next day to catch up. That is why I’ve worked through weekends – I’d always do a couple of hours to keep on top of things. I now have another assistant who is doing emails for me ... she will do maybe an hour or two a day from home. All emails used to come to me but we’ve changed the website, so they all go to her and the aim is that eventually she will do pretty much all of that and just flick on things to me.
I just try and break it up because it gets a bit overwhelming spending that much time at the computer. Throughout the day, I do get derailed and go on my phone a bit as it's easier if I can delete something or flick a quick reply. I try to keep on top of it and then come and do a solid hour to cull down the inbox. You know, the zero goal that never ever happens.
On what makes an extraordinary life…
The more mediation I do, and delving into spiritual practices and teachings, I think the most extraordinary thing is about being able to connect with the present moment.
Our lives are so busy, and we spend so much time in the past and future, but they don’t actually exist. We actually spend very little time in the present moment, being centred and connected to that.
I think that the most extraordinary thing is 'no-thing'. Being in a state of connectedness to this moment is so important because everything else is transient and will pass eventually.
On eating a diet consisting of 80 per cent fruit…
There is a lot of confusion about fruit because obviously sugar is bad, which is refined processed sugar, but fruit is one of the most natural foods for a human.
We have evolved to eat fruit. The reason we see colour is to be able to distinguish between fruits on a tree and the sugar in fruit is exactly what our body runs on; it doesn’t need to change it, it can go straight into the cell.
If you look at our nearest primates like the Bonobo, we have the same teeth and digestive systems and our anatomy is very similar.
They eat a 50 per cent diet of fruit and the rest is just leafy greens and they are strong and they could tear your face off if they wanted to. They might eat a small amount of insects and very occasional will they catch a mammal and eat it, but that is more about territory.
It is considered quite an extreme point of view, but when you look into it does it make sense.
On an a daily meditation practice…
It has kind of been in and out of my life, but when I got really sick I knew that was going to be the most important thing for me to do to turn my health around. I started with a mindfulness course and made a commitment to do an hour a day, so I did half an hour in the morning and half an hour every night. After about a week of doing that was when I really started noticing a big change in my energy levels and my health. Now I just prioritise it.
I was always like "I'm too busy, I can't afford to spend that hour,” but now I realise that hour is probably the most valuable.
Then my assistants and I learnt Transcendental Meditation – this has been life changing. I love the practice so much and so do my staff. It brings us closer together and we’re all more focused at work.
But even my mediation now after nearly 100 consecutive days, it gets easier, but it’s still so dominated by thought. There are moments of this amazing awareness and connectedness, and then there is just like chatter going on. That will come and a lot of it is just acknowledging that, instead of getting caught up and going down that train of thought.
On being a morning person…
I'm a morning person, so I found it quite hard when I was sick because I didn’t feel like I got anything done. If I’m up and I’ve done my yoga and mediation and I’ve had my breakfast, and then it's only nine a.m., then I feel like I’ve got a whole day to get work done.
But when I was unwell, I was doing yoga at 10.30 and it would kind of be that I would get some things done and start working beforehand, and then I’d be in a rush to get to yoga and I would come back and it would have broken my flow.
By the time you get back its 12.30, and you’ve only got half a day left so I’m loving doing mornings again because I feel like I’ve achieved so much, and I actually feel much more awake, and it means I can finish work at five o'clock.
“Realise you are not actually your thoughts, you are the person watching them.”
– Julia deVille
Be Here Now by Ram Dass
Revolution by Russell Brand
Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch
And an all time favourite: The WASP Factory by Iain Banks
The Trews by Russell brand
Dr Robert Morse on the great lymphatic system