Joy Every answers questions about her work, influences, studio practice and critique in this short Q&A with curator Thomas Drymon.
Joy, describe your journey to becoming a painter through the path of corporate America.
I was a painter in high school and college but during college I felt that I could have more of an impact through filmmaking. So I went to film school and received my MFA in screenwriting/directing from Columbia University. However, I was unsuccessful in selling my screenplays or making films and had to eat so took a job at Walt Disney as an assistant. I was told I was an awful assistant and thus promoted to Creative Director. I loved the job, as I was able to work with artists as they created characters, backgrounds, storylines and music for animated feature films. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to leave the corporate world of Hollywood and AOL to return to painting. At that point, I was finally ready to be alone in a room with my paints, canvas and brushes.
How has your previous profession influenced your work (Hanna Barbera, Disney)? What are your other significant influences?
I was very taken with the artistry of animation. Animators and background painters are extremely talented artists. I had no idea. I have definitely been influenced by the concept of anthropomorphism. Bringing inanimate and landscape elements to life on canvas is an interesting challenge. The American Modernists have definitely influenced my work—the simplification of landscape elements by Arthur Dove for example—as has Asian/Indian art and textile patterns.
You mentioned that you are engaged in regular critique sessions with other artists. How has that impacted your work? Can you give an example of criticism and how it changed something you were working on in the studio?
It’s important to me to engage with other artists on a regular basis. Working alone I have a tendency to not see where the work is going or to be more negative about a direction than I should be. The crit group helps me see the bigger picture—how a new direction is not totally new but a logical outgrowth of work that I had been doing. They are also helpful in figuring out when a painting is done or there is more to be said. I often found that something about a painting—maybe a line or area—would be bothering me but it would be more of a nagging sense than a clear thought. The crit group would inevitably find the same place and mention their discomfort with it. Then I know I do have to deal with that area and inevitably I’ll be happier with the outcome. I also really enjoy talking about other artists’ works as well. It gives me insight into my own work and sharpens my observance skills.
Tell us more about the painting Labwork and its significance to you.
Labwork was a turning point, a new direction for me. A “seminal painting.” I had been using the black ball icons in larger ways previously which started as a way to cover an area of the painting I was unhappy with. I decided to try and make a tree out of the balls to see what developed. I dripped multiple times on the canvas first then let the balls go where they wanted to go to signify a tree. When it was done, I felt it looked to me more like the models of atoms kids are given in science class. That’s where the title “LabWork” comes from. But to me it still symbolizes the life force of a growing tree.
In our studio visits, we discussed your cultural influences. If I remember correctly, you don’t necessarily seek out visual references from other cultures, yet they seem to exist. Can you talk about those influences?
I’m always amazed when I look at indigenous art from Aboriginal, Native American and primitive cultures that the marks I make are the same marks that native peoples made thousands of years ago. I don’t set out to copy those marks like spirals or pattern lines, but they seem to be there anyway. I believe human nature causes us to create lines that come from somewhere deep inside, something that signifies human existence. One can also see these patterns and lines in nature like a snail shell, ripples in the water, veins in a leaf, etc.
We also briefly discussed moments of transformation in the studio. Can you talk about your most recent work and how it is influenced by the past but also what it says about where you might head?
I’ve lately been trying to get to the essence of a concept—simplify, simplify as in “LabWork.” In order to simplify that concept even further I decided to remove the distraction of color. You will see this in “Trio,” my most recent painting in the show. “Trio” also pushes the anthropomorphism concept. It is simple, but the stacks of balls seem to be communicating with each other, moving and vibrating. I love this idea of showing movement and communication in a flat plane. I’m going to keep working on that concept until I’ve played it out and need to move on to the next thing. I get bored of a direction easily and am always experimenting with where the next canvas will lead me.