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Textiles (MA)

Julie Heaton

Julie Heaton is a Bristol based artist who lives and works in her home city. For two years, Julie has commuted to London to study at The Royal College of Art.

In 2009, Julie’s husband ended his own life. In a moment of cataclysmic destruction, her life and that of her sons was changed for ever. 

Traumatic loss is unimaginable and unspeakable, it is both isolating and transformative. Julie’s practice is one of necessity: the need to unravel traumatic memories, confront the hurt and discover a new way to live again. Achieving a First-Class Honours degree at Bath Spa, in 2015, Julie has continued to use art to investigate complex emotions. Initially Julie stitched; with a drawing practice grounded in free motion embroidery, the RCA has challenged her to traverse her known boundaries of making. What was once a challenge in excellence changed, slowly becoming a contemplative process of embodiment. With an intimacy of mark making, Julie closes her eyes and responds to how she feels, putting difficult conversations onto canvas through uninhibited lines with unfamiliar processes. 

Julie knows that she has not reached a conclusion to her exploration of living with traumatic loss, and neither does she expect to. However, she is aware of the social potential to share what she has learnt with others, taking her conversation into galleries and workshop spaces. 

Julie’s work has been exhibited in galleries, printed in publications and awarded prizes, including Embroidery Atelier Award 2019, Hand and Lock, London. Julie has taught young people and adults in workshop situations and spoken about her practice to audiences upon request.

Woman standing by printed female torso.

Traumatic loss is devastating and eludes all possibility of representation. It is by definition, unspeakable. Painful memories distort, fragment and bury themselves deep in the brain and lie there waiting to raise their head at any inopportune moment. The body readies itself for fight or flight, the survivor learns to camouflage how they feel so as not to upset others, and left unmanaged, the sadness will take over your life. Talking about what happened is sacrament to giving suffering a voice, and the outcome uncertain, but it must be done if the survivor is going to emerge from the milieu of darkness.

Julie considers herself fortunate, whilst the traumatic loss has been devastating, she is able to respond to her feelings by thinking through making. Julie knows that she can hide her voice with inconsequential words and cover her face with suggested gestures, but she is aware that her body might give it away. With the touch of her hand, Julie can close her eyes and make marks that respond to the feel of her body, and the anxieties in her mind. With layer upon layer, Julie allows each moment to be felt and recorded, each mark affecting the one placed before it. And underneath, the chaos of life, the events that happen, often unnoticed but determinedly consequential, affecting who we are and the decisions we make. The materials are not chosen because she understands them, but because they allow a sense of freedom. They are an opportunity to make mistakes and the possibility to express with the hand what cannot be said with words. The work is experimental and the outcome uncertain. The conversation with the viewer, one that may be unnoticed or welcomed.

Drawing of a sad face

'If only we had known some different words...'

How do we talk about unspeakable events, allow our minds to process the hurt and find a way to live again? At first my making was about my conversation, my pain and my sadness. The marks were printed onto pristine white cotton organdy and hung in layers. And then this image happened, the print went through to the backing cloth, it was surrounded with marks left by others. I was learning, learning how to have a conversation and how the events of my past affect who I am and the choices I make.


Mono-print on medium weight calico with print room detritus


101 x 62cm
2 female torsos.

Following traumatic loss, life changes forever. The body and mind can be overwhelmed by complicated feelings making it difficult to know who you are and what your place is in the world. Our lived experiences complicate this process, each life event affects how we understand what has has happened and informs the choices that we will make.

With my eyes closed, gentle contemplative touch is used to connect with what is going on inside my body and mind. Each mark is affected by how I feel, each layer impacted by the one that came before. The materiality of the line is more than a mark of form and place, it is a beautiful embodiment of the hurt and the pain that lies within.


Mono-print on heavy cotton canvas, procion dyes


Left image: 136 x 98cm Right image: 176 x 102cm
two female torso

When making the work, bottles of dye are wrapped in the fabric and transported home. The bottles leak, they fall over and they leave traces of colour behind. Life events affect who we. Some are happy, others sad, some memorable, others are easily forgotten. Some we can control, others we can not. My mono-prints are made with my eyes closed, the marks a response to what my hand can feel. The images made are printed onto a canvas where chance and occurrences affect the colours and the patterns made. 

I never know how much to say and where I should start. I never know how I will feel if the outcome is one that I did not expect. But I do know that talking through making will put me in a better place than if I had not begun at all.


Mono-print on heavy canvas, procion dyes.


Left image:174 x 128cm Right image: 177 x 119cm
Two separate female torsos

Throughout my making I have taken risks. I have been guided by what happens and made decisions based on what I can see and what I can feel.

Our lives following traumatic loss are a constant flux of change. Our understanding of grief will never be fixed and we will never know if our enduring need to talk will be satiated by creative making. As an artist, I know that I cannot depend on this outcome. But, by making a start, I know that I will shake off the stigma that surrounds the word suicide and begin to break down the wall of silence. Slowly I am learning to integrate what has happened into my life so that it is a part of me, rather than the whole.


Mono-print on lightweight cotton calico, procion dyes


Left image: 180 x 128cm Right image: 176 x 127cm
One female torso

I was once terrified of thinking too deeply, talking too openly and creating too honestly, but doing so has been liberating. There is no right or wrong way to handle grief, our understanding is not fixed and it will change as we traverse its unpredictable path. Enduring traumatic loss does not stop you living or creating, it simply means that we will do them differently. Whilst the traumatic loss of my husband through suicide has been a constant factor in the thinking behind my making, art has helped me to survive and helped me to find hope.

I know that trauma affects us all differently, but I am certain that the desire is unanimous, to untangle the painful memories that haunt our souls, connect with an audience who will understand and charge one person to talk about how they feel.

Thank you

Thank you to my tutors and peers at the Royal College of Art, who have nurtured and supported my voice throughout my Masters study, I will be eternally grateful.

Thank you to you, the viewer, for taking time to look at my work and engage with my conversation. Please do contact me if you have any further questions about my creative practice.


Mono-print on heavy cotton canvas, procion dyes


175 x 124cm