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Julie Sharpe
Milk It

gouache and colored pencil on board
10″ x 14″


Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu

Art Prof & Partner

Yves-Olivier Mandereau

Ceramic Artist

Lauryn Welch, Painter & Performance Artist

Lauryn Welch

Painter & Performance Artist

Artist Statement
This illustration is a commentary on the corrupt dairy industry in the United States. The large man holding the tubes represents the corporate giants forcing cows to produce milk. These large corporations take advantage of small farms, lobby to create a false demand for milk, and, in some cases, promote the exploitation of cows.

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Partial Video Transcript

Prof Lieu: “This is a gouache painting that I think really grabs your attention right off the bat. It’s one of those pieces if you walked into the room, you would walk straight for this piece. I think part of it is the incredibly bright, saturated colors. But also there’s so much movement. The way that all the different components of the piece are dispersed throughout, I think is really well done.”

Yves-Olivier: “The composition is really dynamic and there’s a lot of energy and movement to move the viewer around the piece. There’s good resting spaces and there’s a lot of detail in every section to kind of admire and work through.” L

Lauryn: “I think at times it almost feels too distinctive. Like immediately when I looked at the image, I thought that this guy in the yellow suit was that guy from that Gangam style video that came out a few years ago.”

Prof Lieu: “Do you like that or do you think that’s problematic? I hear that a lot of people will say, ‘Oh that reminds me of this’.”

Lauryn: “I think given that this piece was not about that music video and was actually about the milk industry was not working for me. I definitely was not thinking of the milk industry when I was looking at that.”

Prof Lieu: “You felt like it was a distraction, that you made that association.”

Lauryn: “Yes, The guy has a very distinctive face and glasses. And who wears a yellow suit? Because no corporate business owner I know wears a yellow suit.”

Yves-Olivier: “My issue with the yellow suit is that it doesn’t really convey the mood that the artist talked about in their artist’s statement. And this is also another issue that we have to contend between, you know, presenting a work of art on its own versus later explaining it. The vibrancy of the colors does not convey the despondency that the artist is talking about in their statement.

The artist is talking about the abuse of cows and the dairy industry, and how the conglomeration of corporations are taking advantage of these animals. This bright bright yellow on this sky-blue backdrop isn’t really doing that for me.”

Prof Lieu: “Well it’s a playful image. It’s a fun, almost happy. I mean, although he looks like he’s up to no good, but in a mischievous way. I don’t think in a dark sinister way that way the image is described in the statement.”

Yves-Olivier: “In a kind of a comical way.”

Lauryn: “Like Dr. Seuss I thought of with those colors especially. Like you think of the evil villains and like the Lorax for instance.”

Prof Lieu: “I mean, there’s a light heartedness I think to the stylistic choices in this painting that for me don’t align with the statement. I mean, if you think about the abuse in the milk industry, it’s pretty severe and very serious.

Someone who comes to mind immediately is the artist Sue Coe, who’s done many many images about the chicken industry, the meat industry, various corporations. I mean she’s really somebody who’s dug very deep into that. If you look at her pieces they’re very stark, very severe, brutal images. And I just don’t think that that’s being conveyed here very much.”

Yves-Olivier: “The main focus is on the man holding this money machine. And I think the artist in their statement put an emphasis on, you know, these cows that are being abused. But they’re kind of off to the side and it’s not really clear what the relationship is between this man and the cows.”

Lauryn: “Well one thing that I had a hard time in relation to that was the actual machine that he’s using with the cows. Like I couldn’t quite figure out what that was. It kind of looked like a ventilation tube.”

Prof Lieu: “I thought it looked like a vacuum cleaner.”

Lauryn: “Yeah. And so trying to figure out. That seems like the umbilical cord to the cow content…”

Yves-Olivier: “But it doesn’t look like an industrial cow milker, which has metallic tubes attached to the udders.”

Prof Lieu: “I mean, that’s where you have to do your research as an artist. If you’re gonna do something about the milk industry, you gotta look up photographs of what those machines look like. What the factories look like,and really understand the ins-and-outs of the industry.”

Lauryn: “Maybe even the corporate milk people: like what do they look like?”

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3 responses on "Group Art Critique: Julie Sharpe"

  1. Technically this piece is pretty impressive! Your colors are eye catching and clear, perfect for the editorial market that you’re looking for in this piece. Your handling of the gouache is also really crisp and clean. The concept is powerful, and I think that the trick with visual storytelling for how to move this piece further is to push your concept even more – to a realm that surprises the viewers in some way!

    A phenomenal illustrator working today in editorial work is Angelica Alzona, and I’d really recommend seeing some of the work she makes! It’s got an element of subtlety to the narrative that doesn’t give the story away, but merely suggest it.

    Think of how else you could symbolize profit over animal care, other than dollars? Turning your concept over and over again can really help you stretch the conceptual illustrator brain! But this piece shows so much fun and clear execution! I’m really excited to see how your work goes forward!

  2. This piece is so fun and feels so assured in a lot of ways, but I do think that some of the artist’s stronger instincts are being slightly misapplied… I agree with a lot of the points already made in this critique, but I think the main thing that makes this feel like a portrait rather than an editorial illustration is the composition: The corporate business man character is so much the focus of the piece, due not only to the vibrancy and specificity of the color choice, but largely because of the figure’s exaggerated size and central placement. I love that impulse to play with scale, but I’m not sure it should be applied to the figure, since – as Prof. Lieu makes clear – this character could just as easily be anonymous, and thus more symbolic.

    The cows are the most important element in terms of cluing us into the illustration’s concept, and yet they take up the least amount of space in the image, and their silhouettes are cropped! If the artist were to do another round of sketches on this piece, they should proceed by first asking themselves the question: Which of these elements are most important to the narrative? Which need to be specific, or naturalistic? Which should be more symbolic, exaggerated or surreal? And then see which approach works the best. T

    his artist is so clearly talented that I know they’ll make the right choices to communicate the subject effectively if they just shift their thinking – their style and technique are already so perfectly primed for it!

  3. This piece is very captivating and eye catching due to its wonderfully dynamic composition and highly saturated colors. You’ve also done a great job of handling the tricky medium that is gouache!

    I would agree with Lauryn, Yves-Olivier, and Professor Lieu’s remarks regarding specificity within this piece. The corporate giant in the piece is reading more as a specific individual rather than a symbol of a corporate giant due to how unique the character design is.

    On the other hand, I crave more specificity when it comes to the actual machine forcing the cows to produce milk, and its interaction with the cows. How does this machine work and how can you really push the idea of this machine FORCING the cows to produce milk?

    I can almost see the tubes acting like a parasite, coiling around the cows and restraining them from movement as they take what they need. I do really love the positioning of the gigantic figure. It looming over the cows is very ominous and creates a clear power dynamic.

    Great job tackling such a heavy topic!

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