Julia Marchand Paints Surreal Habitats

Julia Marchand Paints Surreal Habitats


The Alameda artist use candy colors to rosy-up dioramas that make her sad.

An accomplished painter of 30 years, longtime Alameda resident Julia Marchand explores the uneasy balance between nature and human identity. Her conceptual artwork uses references from wildlife dioramas, public gardens, and personal experience to bring to life a distinctively surreal and candy-colored world filled with surprising juxtapositions and cartoon-like animals with vacant eyes. With a fresh and imaginative point of view, Marchand transports her subjects and her audiences to a completely new reality.She has spent many years working from the Alameda Victorian where she has raised her children, and Marchand has been exhibited her work from Los Angeles to Mexico City and from New York to London. Her storied résumé includes intriguing tidbits such as backup singer to underground sensation El Vez and television writer for the SyFy Channel.

Currently working as an art teacher in Oakland, Marchand has spent the last few years painting in Jingletown’s Norton Factory Studios, where she is constantly inspired by the artist collaborative.

Her latest collection, titled Habitat Reconstruction, is based upon photographs of diorama habitats she took 10 years ago at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. Upon revisiting the photos, Marchand had an overwhelming sense of how different the dioramas make her feel as an adult as opposed to how she experienced them as a child. “They brought up feelings of sadness. As a kid, they filled me with wonder, and they still do … but it now it strikes me that all of these habitats aren’t going to live anymore, if they even still do. The geography of the world is changing so rapidly with overpopulation and global warming. Sea levels are on the rise. I started to imagine these scenes with that in mind and let my imagination run.”

Marchand’s complex memories, thoughts, and emotions bring a layered effect to the paintings in Habitat Reconstruction, based upon the rise of ocean levels and the worry over how it will permanently alter Earth’s terrains. Untethered is taken from a highly controlled scene of dall sheep perched upon a mountain terrain layered over images of sea life. Water appears to seep through the peaceful scene, evoking a beautiful yet slightly disturbing element of chaos and inevitability.

“The painting addresses my concern about how the habitats of the animals featured in the dioramas are going to adapt, or will they cease to exist? How do we deal with this challenge?”

There is another angle to her use of dioramas. “They make me think about how we are connected—and disconnected—from nature. Dioramas represent a largely controlled human construct, so the use of them also addresses that—and how they represent a microcosm of nature and how we interpret it—as opposed to how it actually exists.”

Considering herself a largely conceptual painter, she said, there is a freedom to her approach. “I simply plant an idea in my imagination, then let it germinate and influence the work.” An uncanny element of her art is based upon the use of color. She explains, “It is surreal … not real, very unreal, hyper real.”

The use of vibrant candy colors evokes a “forced happiness” to create tension in an environment that is equal parts familiar and alien. “The color is a huge draw for me. I love the challenge of working with a difficult palette. Electric orange is not that easy of a color to deal with, believe it or not,” she deadpans. “It is a thoroughly enjoyable challenge.”

Marchand is excited to bring a scaled down experience of Habitat Reconstruction to Inkblot Gallery in January. “There will be small and affordable pieces from this collection available, and I am looking forward to working with them. I am so fortunate to live within a community that values and promotes truly artistic experiences. It is enjoyable and inspiring.”


Explore her work JuliaMarchandArt.com.