UO Interviews: Julia Sherman

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In her ongoing project Salad for President, writer Julia Sherman interviews (and makes salads with) artists from all over the world. On the heels of launching her first cookbook about—what else—salads, we chat with Julia about her favorite art-meets-cooking experiences and her upcoming Space Ninety 8 event next Thursday, June 15 from 7-9pm, where Julia will be in conversation with illustrator Joana Avillez as well as signing copies of her new book. 

Photos by Julia Robbs

You grew up in New York in an artistic family — can you share more about your own art? Are you still a practicing artist?
I have always had a very interdisciplinary practice, and I love working with new media for every project; that way, I never get bored. 

I would say I have use art as a way to work with new and interesting people that I might never have met otherwise. For example, I taught a weekly workshop at a senior center where a group of women reenacted the pilot episode of The Golden Girls. Each woman played a rotating cast of the four characters (we all have a little Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia  and Rose in us, right?). I video taped each session, and edited it together into our own wacky version of the show as a way of documenting what was really a process-based artwork. For another project, I lived with a community of nuns and designed a line of clothing with them that was worn by the nuns themselves and sold as ready to wear apparel. When I lived in Los Angeles, I took a community weaving class and became fascinated with the teacher, a 70s fiber artist who let me film her dragging a crocheted vagina she made 30 years prior around the streets of Burbank. These are just a few examples of the kinds of work I used to make. In short, I always begin with a single point of curiosity, a question or a contradiction in the world, and I rope unsuspecting collaborators into the process. I suppose it’s fairly obvious that feminism is a throughline there as well. 

I have been really surprised to find that since starting Salad for President, I haven’t had the hankering to make studio art in the same way. Writing, shooting food, people and their homes, producing events and creating a book have really satisfied my creative needs. I do still consider myself a practicing artist, I just don’t have an interest in traditional modes of exhibition. I know I will return making fine art in the future, but honestly, I never imagined I could be as busy as I am right now. The good news is, I have more creative outlets than I can handle! 

Your Space 98 conversation is centered around the idea of collaboration — what has S4P taught you about what it means to collaborate, or what findings there are to be had with interacting with other creatives in perhaps a non-traditional setting?
I don’t like working alone. I prefer to sidle-up to people with different skills than I have, to use my work as a way to learn as much as possible. That’s why I love working alongside chefs on events, giving myself the chance to cook with some of the most talented people in the restaurant business without having to own a restaurant myself. I have learned so much that way. Collaboration is really about recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses, and putting your ego aside so you can benefit from other people’s perspectives and ideas.

The process of writing  book is a real lesson in collaboration. You cannot possibly do it all yourself (though I sort of tried), so you really need to pick your collaborators wisely. I like to work with people who bring an entirely different set of skills to the table. Joana for instance. I love her work and trust her entirely. I can’t draw to save my life, so there’s a really exciting exchange there. We understand one another and have mutual respect, so we can brainstorm and mind-meld, improving both our work through our dialogue. 

What are some of your favorite things to make when you have limited counter space/resources to work with? What’s your favorite “throw it together” cheap meal?
When it comes to a cheap meal, I love to braise celery hearts in some chicken stock and butter and top that with a fried egg and some fresh herbs. It doesn’t get cheaper than celery and eggs, but the combo somehow feels very elevated. 

Even easier than braising, I love a half an avocado with olive oil, salt, lemon and sumac or chile powder. Nothing is easier or more satisfying. 

What are some of your favorite salads (or veggie dishes!) if you’re eating out in NYC?
It’s funny, with seasonality and changing menus becoming the norm it’s tough for me to call out one specific dish that I could reliably return to. That said, Roman’s in Fort Greene always blows my mind when it comes to salad. They recently made a kind of gardinière out of chopped pickled herring and olives and tossed it onto some little gem lettuces. I thought it sounded terrible on the menu, but it was so good. I have been trying to approximate the dish at home since. I think Roman’s always gets the scale of a dinner salad right -- pile it up into a mountain please! 

What are some other current curiosities for you — music, art, design, places, people, etc.?
I am thinking a lot about the artist David Ireland. He was a real thought-leader in the Bay Area art scene in the 70s, and treated his home as an ever evolving work of art. The house is located in the center of the Mission district, and  was recently restored and opened it up for operate private tours. Ireland was famous for his thematic dinner parties. Sometimes the entire dinner would be made of bones, things like that. But every inch of the home has his touch and his sensibility mapped onto it, and I love that.  I am doing an event at his home for my book launch in July, and I am really excited to share it with my friends who haven’t had the chance to visit. 

I am also thinking a lot about Agnes Varda and an artist named Judy Baca who Varda features in her film, Mur Murs. The film is shot in 1980’s Los Angeles, and documents the incredible movement to cover the city in homegrown community artwork. Judy Baca is a painter and muralist, and the founded the first City of Los Angeles Mural Program in 1974. Her murals rewrite American history from a multicultural perspective, giving a face and credit to the role chicano culture and women have played.

In music, I just saw Princess Nokia play at my husband’s music festival, Moogfest, and she was a powerhouse. It was rad to see someone play in an intimate venue, who really feels like they are on the cusp of stardom. 

You are about to embark on a big tour to support the book launch — can you share more about these dates and where readers can catch you next?

NEW YORK

WED JUN 28th: Live Podcast recording with Away 

PORTLAND

SAT JULY 8th: Tusk x SFP: F*^K BRUNCH

Fuck Brunch comes to Portland! A special one day only pop up at Tusk. Enjoy a prixe-fixe meal inspired by the book, herbaceous cocktails and get your hands on a signed book.

To make a reservation, visit Tusk online, or call (503) 894-8082

SUN JULY 9th / 1pm: Shop the book for Project Glow

Q&A, book signing and one day sale of ceramics, and design objects featured in the book. Sip rosé and shop the beautiful work of artists like Objet et Totem, Felt + Fat, Helen Levi and Ann Karlin. All proceeds will benefit Project Grow.

Public event

BAY AREA

SAT JULY 14th / 11:30am-3:30pm: 17 Scribe Winery Hacienda: SFP tasting menu

Scribe wine and dishes from the book. Special SFP x Baggu tote bags for sale, filled with veggies from the Scribe garden, fancy treats from Good Eggs and delights from The Shed. Proceeds from those sales to benefit Farmworker Justice

Public event

WED JULY 19th / 6:30pm-7:30pm: Omnivore Bookstore: Book talk, and signing

Book signing and author talk at San Francisco’s favorite cookbook shop.

Public event

SAT 7/21-23 Saturday, July 22nd: 11am-6pm, Sunday July 23rd: 11am-5pm: SF Art Book Fair

Salad for President and Kronnerburger will be slinging burgers, and setting up the world’ best salad bar, feeding the hungry literary crowd at the 3rd Annual SF Art Book Fair.

Public event

SUN 7/23 / 11am: Baggu in-store event

To celebrate the limited edition SFP x Baggu tote bag, Sherman will be serving small bites from the Fuck Brunch chapter of her book and signing books. Bag free with purchase of the book.

Public event