Say "glitter" and certain associations come to mind: lowbrow craft, kindergarten artworks, sorority spirit posters, glossy adolescent lips and drag-queen cleavage.
Glitter, in the service of stagecraft, erogenous-zone emphasis and expressions of preschool love, is a marvelous thing. But you might be surprised at just how inspired and engaging glitter can be when employed in the service of conceptual art-making. For instance, it changes color depending upon where you stand. It lends depth and luminosity. It speaks to people in a way a more traditional medium such as paint might not.
"People who've had nothing to do with art at all have had to touch glitter in their lives," 29-year-old artist Claire Joyce says of glitter's accessible, embraceable charm.
Glitter is also Joyce's preferred medium, one she has wrestled away from its lowbrow, crafty riggings and invested it with wit, meaning and a virtuosity that allows her to render a cherry-blossom branch or a leopard-striped pillow with a remarkable photo-realist veracity.
Joyce's wry, autobiographical paintings will be featured beginning Friday, April 20, at the blue-chip Fay Gold Gallery. The solo exhibition is a remarkable accomplishment considering that Joyce only graduated last spring from the University of Georgia's Master of Fine Arts program. The show also is testament to craft's ascendant popularity in the contemporary art world. Craft is everywhere these days, creeping into galleries and featured in museum exhibitions such as the current group show Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting at New York's Museum of Arts & Design.
Joyce has been preparing for the Fay Gold exhibit with grueling 7:30-3 a.m. days spent locked away in her cramped studio inside the rambling bungalow she shares with husband Garth Johnson, doyen of the enthusiastically craft-centric blog www.extremecraft.com. A Nebraska native whose own artwork has tended toward souped-up ceramics-melding decorative art and contemporary bling culture, Johnson, like Joyce, comes from crafty Midwestern stock.
Joyce's mother made almost all of the family's clothes when Joyce was a child. She describes her father as an "inventor" of sorts, who she recalls once tried (not entirely successfully) to turn a file cabinet into a rib smoker.
Joyce leans over a work in progress like a Tibetan monk executing a devotional sand painting. She gingerly sprinkles glitter from a stockpile that would keep the New York Dolls in glam for months onto a base of Elmer's glue.
In Joyce's work, gaudy, exciting glitter collides with the artist's bittersweet autobiographies of life's agonies and ecstasies. There is anxiety, loneliness, tofu and alcohol. Joyce paints herself at the center of her work, as a wild-haired nude lost in a sea of ennui, fretting over past boyfriends and her present status as a stuck-at-home newlywed flanked by dustpans and wedding rings.
"It's sort of like my diary," Joyce says of genuinely offbeat pieces such as the content-drenched "Much too much: Options and Obligations" leaning against a wall in her studio. Joyce is naked and bespectacled and floating in a sea of graphic, geometric waves, surrounded by cartoon-evocative thought bubbles. In one bubble is a can of Ajax, in another a glass of wine, in another the Atlanta skyline.
The piece is "about being in Atlanta and being strapped for time and having all of these different forces that are sort of weighing me down," she says. Her life has undergone a whirlwind of changes, including marriage, graduation from art school, her move to Atlanta and then the enormous boost for a young artist of a solo show at a prestigious Atlanta gallery.
Her work inspires myriad associations, from the autobiographical strain of alt comix by Lynda Barry or Aline Kominsky-Crumb to the stained-glass church windows the Missouri-born artist remembers as her first real experience with art as a child.
Difficult to categorize as just craft, Joyce's work marches to its own conceptual drummer on a number of fronts.
Wholesome and upbeat, with a Raggedy Ann tumble of mahogany curls and funky glasses, Joyce is animated and irreverent and very different from her rather frumpy alter ego on display in her paintings, a caricatured rendition of inner stress and anxiety. By placing herself naked and at center stage in her glitter paintings, Joyce gooses the tradition of European male painters obsessively painting nude women.
Only in Joyce's paintings – rather than inert repositories for the painter and viewer's lust – the thought bubbles orbiting her head suggest a female subject full of ideas, anxiety, lust and doubts of her own. The wry gender politics are intensified by Joyce's use of the consummately girly and decorative glitter medium.
Joyce's paintings derive their arresting charm from the collision of sensations they produce. Her work is at once silly and irreverent but also smart and critically engaged with art history. You can see it in the piece laid out on a table in the center of her studio, a riff on Velazquez's "Las Meninas" that Joyce is currently dusting with a last spray of glitter. In a typical mix of highbrow art history and lowbrow, "Ordering and Reordering: Patterns of Romance Past" is Joyce's spin on Titian's "Venus of Urbino." But instead of reclining in an elegant 16th-century Venetian apartment, Joyce-as-Venus features the artist reclining in front of a Church's Fried Chicken, the landmark on Moreland Avenue where you turn to find Joyce's house.
Of preparing for her solo show in a city to which she only recently moved, Joyce says, "This is all that I do. I haven't met anybody. Because it's so time-consuming. And I am obsessed with something being well-crafted.
"It's probably helpful," she notes, "that I moved here and I don't see anybody."
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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