Q & A with Julio Labra, AAC class of 2009

Julio Labra, born in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 1989, is an artist working in Asia. He is a painter whose works are representational of his nomadic life. Having never lived in one place for more than a year, Julio’s work depicts the journey and search for his identity.

He received his MFA in painting from Laguna College of Art and Design in 2014, and his BFA in illustration from Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2012.

Julio currently lives in Tokyo, Japan with his wife. Julio has been discovering what his studio practice looks like amidst the pandemic while traveling throughout Japan. His series “Drifting Studio”, “Drifting Studio 2” explores where he has lived while in Japan and what his studio spaces look like, how he creates, and how he adapts. 

A photo of Julio Labra sitting in a cafe.
Q: Julio, tell us about your artwork and what you have been working on!
I generally work in series and the two series that I’m currently focusing my attention on are my Wonderland Series and Eto Series. Both share themes of fantasy and playfulness as well as focus on color and paint application.
Wonderland consists of images honoring the relationship I have with my wife. During 2020 we were pulled apart because of the pandemic and the international lockdowns, causing us to abandon our previous lifestyles. Wonderland is an attempt at lifting our spirits during our time apart, and the artwork creates a space where I can reflect on the past 2 years.
I’ve always been fascinated with tales of mythology especially stories of mythic creatures, and the Eto series is heavily inspired by the Japanese and Chinese Zodiac. For me, it’s invaluable to find parallels and intersections between different cultures, and I try to infuse aspects of the cultures I’ve been a part of into my work. Taking elements from Mexican Alibrije art, I push the color of the larger-than-life animals to add to the whimsical nature they already possess. My goal with this series is to synthesize my experience as a person of color living in China; providing a place for more than two worlds to harmonize despite their differences.
Q: What is your relationship with color? I notice your works are very vibrant and radiate intense colors!
I’m absolutely in love with color and have only recently given myself permission to experiment with it in my work. I have pushed against the muted tones that I was using in my twenties to create work that is more vibrant and energetic. Placing colors beside each other in a style similar to collage I’m able to see the effects of each color against the next. I want each plane of color to pop and have it’s own identity within the context of the painting so it can be viewed from afar as a singular entity and appreciated for its fragmented detail up-close.
A gouache painting of a woman floating with a cat.
Neon Glow Gouache on Paper (5x8)
A gouache painting of a woman on a bed reading her phone
Light Reading Gouache on Paper (8.5x6)
Q: What has your life been like since graduating from the AAC?
I’m so grateful for the AAC because I was able to learn so much about myself during my time there. The most valuable experience came after graduation when I used the funds awarded to me by the AAC through the Wilder Traveling Scholarship. I chose to take the money and travel to Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. This expedition is what sparked my interest in international travel and led me to travel across the world. Coming from a small town I was not inclined to go beyond my borders, but I’m so thankful that I was able to explore new horizons after graduation.
From Cincinnati, I moved out to California to attend Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) for my MFA in Painting. During my two years at LCAD I was introduced to the Southern Californian art scene and began participating in the art scene. With two other artists, I opened up a not-for-profit art gallery and hosted monthly exhibitions featuring local artists.During my time in California, I worked as an adjunct professor and preparator for galleries. It was during this time that I applied for a teaching position in Qingdao, China. After accepting the job, I moved to China and worked there for four years. That experience was invaluable and opened my eyes to a whole new paradigm of ideas. Using the opportunity to travel I was able to see parts of the world that I would have never believed I’d see. I’ve been spoiled by travel and can’t wait to return to my explorations and working in different parts of the world.
Q: Do you have any big accomplishments or achievements you would like to share with us?
My biggest accomplishment within my artistic practice would be attaining the Star Arts Space artist residency in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. This experience opened my eyes to color and expanded my palette. My artwork blossomed in this beautiful country and I learned so much about Kyrgyz culture. The work I made there was an attempt at comprehending the pitfalls of tradition and the trappings of identity. I learned that naming myself American was far too broad and that it is beyond difficult to gain a grasp on the multitude of distinctions between each group within a culture. To simply say one country is the same is ludicrous and my time traveling around the mountains and cities of Kyrgyzstan made me confront this conundrum. Being a person of multiple backgrounds, I have always had a tough time identifying with one group, but until this point, I had been able to sidestep any deep investigation into my cultural background.

Click HERE to learn more about Julio’s experience in Krygzstan.