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Julia Mee hopes to revive the art of fresco painting
Julia Mee

Staffordshire artist Julia Mee is a Renaissance woman on a mission to revive the art of fresco painting.

And her dream is being pursued not by a Potteries canal, but at the historical heart of the Renaissance: Florence.

While also a skilled painter and draughtsperson, Julia, from Leek, is looking to the medium which helped make Michelangelo and Giotto such revered names in the art world.

And she hopes to one day bring the skills back to Staffordshire.

Artes Etruriae Renascuntur or The Arts of Etruria are Reborn was apparently the motto at Josiah Wedgwood's Etruria Works in Stoke-on-Trent.

Julia Mee could pinch the phrase to describe her dream, but instead of taking inspiration from ancient black Etruscan pottery, Julia has been getting hers from Italian walls and ceilings.

Accademia Di Belle Arti

It is perhaps not surprising that she should take that direction given the time she spent studying at the Accademia Di Belle Arti, the equivalent of the Royal Academy, in Florence, Michelangelo's backyard.

A recent commission for a local villa and an exhibition last year has convinced the north Staffordshire artist that it could be the right time for a renaissance of the fresco.

"Fresco painting is not only a thing of the past, you can also use it in a very contemporary way.

"There are great possibilities for large-scale works, not just in churches and villas, as is traditional in Italy, but in a variety of ways such as in public buildings. The technique itself is very, very flexible."

Huge range of skills

Julia Mee
Sometimes you need a heavy touch!

That technique demands a huge range of skills. Julia has to be part Polish builder, part Rolf Harris and part anatomist: Polish builder to prepare the walls, sometimes using a hammer drill; Rolf Harris to be able to paint quickly on wet plaster before it dries; anatomist to depict the human body in the realistic way the great Renaissance artists introduced to the world.

It is perhaps the speed at which a true fresco artist has to work that defines the discipline. A fresco is done in daily stages, or giornata, with a section of plaster applied and then painted before it can dry. Mistakes can't be rubbed out or painted over.

"That is one of the reasons I love the technique," says Julia, "it is a very big challenge and it's one of the reasons artists had to master fresco painting before they moved on to oil.

"You have to have the project clearly mapped out, you have to be very, very disciplined and you need to work very, very quickly. It's one of the great tests in painting and I've been fortunate to be in Florence.

"Studying at the Accademia during the day and then going to see the real thing in the evening is an incredible opportunity for an artist."

Italian lilt to her accent

Julia has been in Florence for 5 years and has a noticeable Italian lilt to her accent, but there is no chance she will forget her roots in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

She first visited Tuscany as a child as it was a favourite destination for her father, Raymond Mee, also an artist of renown whose life and work was celebrated with an exhibition at the Nicholson Gallery in Leek last year.

During the 1980s he had a pottery at Rudyard which meant frequent visits to the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent where his work was on sale in the foyer.

"I was there every week, every Sunday the whole family went and I have wonderful memories. I'd look around the museum which has a fantastic collection of paintings and ceramics to inspire young people."

Julia Mee, it seems, was always going to be an artist. " I don't think there was any other option, I think it was destiny. Not only because of my father, who was a great painter, but also my grandfather too, he painted the scenery for boy scouts in Leek and my great-great-great grandfather was a potter in Stoke, so it runs in the Mee blood."

An artistic family

Mum Deirdre, who also has a background in art having worked alongside her husband teaching at Stoke-on-Trent College, is watching Julia's career blossom from her home in Leek.

"We knew that she was talented from when she was very small and we watched her grow in her abilities and now that she is working in Tuscany she really is surpassing even our hopes and I know that if my husband was alive today he would be so proud of her. He was so pleased that she went into painting.

"I've seen so many talented young artists go into design without following their dream. Julia's followed hers, she's worked so hard and she's a dedicated artist."

The more flexible and transportable canvas saw the popularity of the fresco die away at the end of the Renaissance, but if it is reborn then we are likely to see evidence in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

"That is one of my ambitions," says Julia, "to bring fresco painting not only back to Italy, which is what I'm doing at the moment, but also back to Staffordshire, especially to Leek."

Giotto frescoes 'rediscovered'
09 Mar 10 |  Europe


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