Julia Vericella is not your typical Beverly Hills beauty. Like her artwork, Julia is complex, dynamic and multi-faceted. She’s deep, soulful and much like her artwork, filled with mysterious layers that one may only discover over time.
We visited with Vericella after her art show at West Hollywood’s newest swanky auberge, the Kimpton Lapeer Hotel. Walking into the private suite showcasing Vericella’s collection, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder. On the surface, her photographic exhibit entitled “Water” evokes heart-stirring emotions one typically experiences whilst looking at images of timeless Hollywood icons like Audrey Hepburn. Once we spent more time immersed in Vericella’s art, we discovered that there was a deeper layer of meaning entrenched beneath the beautiful images. Something we couldn’t put our finger on that left us feeling melancholy, wrapped in a bit of sweetness.
Vericella says that the responses to her art have been similarly multifaceted. Some people react with a gleeful, “Oh, this is beautiful!” And others react with a pensive, “This is pretty…but there’s something dark about this.” In truth, there IS something dark lurking beneath the surface of the beautiful images. That’s what Vericella wants anyone who encounters her art to discover.
Prior to the Water collection, Vericella’s preferred artistic mediums were painting and drawing. She decided to create art through photography because she feels that capturing images is the best expression of Vericella’s deepest thoughts and feelings on a subject near and dear to her heart: depression.
Deep into the unknown
What’s fascinating is that Vericella had never worked as a professional photographic artist until she created the Water collection. She took one film photo class and one digital class in college. Vericella retained an elementary understanding of the art form, which she used to document her art and photograph the inspiration for her paintings prior to the Water series. However, she had never felt the tickle to dabble with professional photography, let alone underwater equipment. She didn’t have a pool in her Beverly Hills backyard. Vericella had what she describes as “big, crazy ideas” of what she wanted to create, but she had to figure out how to bring the images to life as underwater photographic masterpieces.
Being the dynamic, creative, ambitious woman that she is, Vericella decided to simply go for it. Some friends advised her on the necessary equipment to rent. She taught herself the technical aspects of the shoot and enlisted a professional photography assistant and camera operator. Her vast social media network allowed her to secure various locations to film underwater.
Subaquatic treasure hunt
She was the artist, the subject and the muse, which begs the question: how did Vericella take the photographs when she was in the photographs? First, she set the camera up underwater. Next, she described the images she wanted to capture to her camera assistant. Then, she set up the assistant in position under water. Finally, she swam around the camera and placed herself into the underwater frame she envisioned. This process repeated with agonizing persistence until she captured the perfect image. Vericella had a vision, and she was determined to bring it to reality.
The process was more perilous than she imagined, as she’s had asthma her whole life, which causes difficulty when she simply holds her breath. Initially, Vericella was able to hold her breath for 30 seconds when she ventured underwater to test the camera equipment. As the day and photo shoot progressed, Vericella was able to overcome her health condition and stayed under water for two minutes at a time. By the end of the five hour shoot, Vericella was understandably exhausted, yet elated. She and her camera assistant had more fun than they imagined. Yet the images were just as deep and beautiful as Vericella had envisioned.
Sweet irony of artistry
The irony is that Vericella had fun creating a series which was a creative expression of serious subjects: depression, suppression, and inequality. However, her experience with depression was the main inspiration for working underwater.
Being underwater symbolically describes Vericella’s parallel universe of living with depression. Everything was the same as it is in the “normal” world, but slower, muted and partly drab. For Vericella, the parallel universe of depression lies beneath where real life happens for other people.
Interestingly, Vericella’s battle with depression has become a beacon of light for many people. She now has a separate Instagram handle where she posts compassionate quotes and openly discusses the highs and lows of living with depression. However, her journey of “coming out” about depression began with unexpected challenges.
Prior to the Water shoot, Vericella’s artist statement on her website raised much controversy. Artist statements are meant to expose the genesis of the artist’s desire to make art, and to uncover what the art is about. Vericella feels motivated to make art because she expresses and processes her emotional struggles through her artistic process. Vericella wanted to be raw and authentic in her artist statement. She made the bold and courageous choice to discuss her battle with depression.
In a strange twist of fate, Vericella was advised to take her artist statement down. She was told that being so vulnerable and real was a luxury afforded only to artists who actually “make it.” Vericella’s decision to be open and honest about depression, a highly charged subject, was thought to be career suicide. Luckily for the patrons of her art, Vericella disregarded the naysayers advice and lead with her heart.
She saw her decision to share her story as an opportunity to change the archaic and harmful social standards stigmatizing depression and mental health issues. Vericella stated profoundly, “If people like Robin Williams and other wealthy celebrities, who presumably have unlimited access to resources worldwide, don’t have the ability to the mental health help they need, then we need to think differently about this.”
Vericella believes that part of the problem is that people treat mental health issues as a “big, scary, thing.” She believes that if she could help destigmatize mental health issues and help just one person open up about mental health through her artwork, her art is a success.
Through her art, Vericella gives people an opportunity to dive deeper and explore the underpinnings of her pieces. She’s able to highlight social and political issues through beauty. Back at the Kimpton La Peer, cocooned in her images, we realized that her art is not simply a success. And it’s more than just beautiful. Based on our heart opening encounter, Vericella’s art is a deeply healing art experience that you never knew you needed.