Crafts magazine shares an interview with Juli Bolaños-Durman from its archive
‘I’m not too keen on doing things that everyone does,’ Juli Bolaños-Durman tells me as we talk in the near-deserted studios of the Edinburgh College of Art. Usually these rooms are buzzing with activity, she explains, but this morning everyone is at the Craft Scotland conference, where she too will be going after our interview has ended. A small selection of the 30-year-old Costa Rican’s work is laid out on a worktop next to us, alongside her sketch book. And it’s fascinating stuff, vaguely reminiscent of the Spanish designer Javier Mariscal in its playful use of colour and quirky, almost joyous form. It comes as little surprise to discover that Bolaños-Durman initially studied graphic design in her home country. ‘I always knew I was an artist,’ she says. ‘When it came to choosing what I had to enrol in my sister was already doing graphic design. My parents told me to get a degree first – something you can fall back on just in case. Then you can do a masters with a bit more maturity and you can specialise. It has worked out OK.’
And while this makes sense, it doesn’t entirely explain why she hit on Edinburgh to study. First, there simply wasn’t a suitable place in Costa Rica, she says, and she was drawn to the course headed up by Geoffrey Mann, as well as the city which is big enough to create a discernible buzz and yet is compact and intimate. There was a family connection too: her great grandfather was originally from Glasgow, leaving after World War One to work as an engineer on banana plantations. He got married and never returned.
Inevitably though there was a bedding-in period. ‘It’s one of those things,’ she says. ‘If you don’t have a shock then you’re not learning.’ Although she started on the MA course, she quickly elected to swap to the longer, two-year MFA and discovered a passion for engraving. Did the fact that she had come from a graphics rather than a glass background mean she lagged behind others? ‘Everyone has something to offer,’ she replies. ‘Of course, I wasn’t at the same level, but then again, if you’re persistent… Coming from a different background gave me a bit of fresh perspective.’
Interestingly, it was a trip to Pilchuck Glass School that acted as a catalyst for her making process. At a class by the Japanese artist Michiko Miyake she learned about the ‘quick project’ approach. ‘That was fundamental,’ she explains, ‘because I didn’t give enough credit to my drawings and sketchbooks, and how important they are for the creative process. You have to give yourself at least 10 minutes a day to relax and just interact with whatever material you have. Then you photograph and document it in your book. And usually all the answers will be there to problems in the future.’ A cursory glance at her sketchbook uncovers inspirations that include architecture, nature and retail window displays. It’s beautifully annotated too, in English for the benefit of her tutors.
Her pieces often make use of found objects: we look at one that was created from a pair of old beer bottles, for instance. These are cut into different shapes and assembled (the longest part of the process) before being cold-worked and engraved. ‘I feel drawn to save things in the sense that we think that materials are unlimited, but in the end we have to work with what we have because they are not endless. And that’s where I find the challenge: to create something beautiful from things that people are about to discard.’ The patterns she engraves are made intuitively, although she sometimes draws on the glass. ‘I usually try to focus on whatever the shape is and to flow with the process,’ she tells me. ‘Sometimes you have this great idea and you do it and it looks terrible. But it’s OK, sometimes you just need to do that. I’m not very good at doing straight lines. Everything is a little bit crooked. I don’t measure things, I just balance it out with the eye and whatever it feels like.’
After she completed her MFA in 2013 she was spotted at New Designers by gallery owner Joanna Bird: ‘She asked me if I wanted to go to SOFA and to COLLECT and that she wanted to represent me. I was like: “What!” It’s an amazing opportunity. I sort of had the idea in my head as the best-case scenario, but I never thought it possible that it would happen so quickly. Going to those exhibitions was amazing. As an emerging artist you need all the help you can get.’ Having just completed a year-long residency in the glass department, Bolaños-Durman is about to start another with the jewellery team. She’s quick to acknowledge the role the university is playing in her career and the responsibilities the role encompasses. ‘What I try to do is be in the studio as much as I can. The residency is just a crazy opportunity that I have these facilities for free. It would be so expensive if I had to set up my own studio. It’s also about showing students and setting an example – to explain to them my professional practice during my first year into it. It’s a good example of the possibilities once you graduate.’ It’s a charming sentiment and one of the reasons I suspect she keeps winning these much sought-after places.