We never know what we don’t know: Q&A with Joyce Conlon

JOE BUN KEO: Your work is about accumulation and peeling away, the creation of a visual trail. I love the reference to palimpsest. It�s archival. It�s archaeology. What�s your reaction to the idea that you�re creating your own history within your work?

JOYCE CONLON: Great question! I spent time working as an archeologist. I am very aware that I am creating my own history within the work. I enjoy looking back at older work in search of common threads. About 10 years ago I made a drawing of some coiled up fencing material. I loved the way the similar square shapes were altered as they curled around and overlapped themselves. About 5 years later an antique wire fence became the inspiration for an entire body of work. The paintings go through so many stages from start to finish. Often, they have been exhibited in a different form more than once before being realized in their final state. One painting and a recent show were named Time Lapse, a reference to what is left on the surface after all those layers of history have been compressed into one.

Joyce Conlon, Camouflage, 2012, acrylic on rag paper mounted on wood panel, 30 x 44 inches.

JBK: You�re creating a past and displaying the present. Your work acts as point of departure for time travel. If I had DeLorean, what would you want me to take away from traveling through all the layers and patterns of your work?

JC: I would have you take away a taste of something familiar and yet previously unseen. James Elkins has said that “painting is liquid thought.” I believe painting, like literature, gives us metaphors for understanding our own reality.

Joyce Conlon, Cover Up, 2012, acrylic and oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

Joyce Conlon, Jalan-Jalan, 2009, acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches

JBK: The act of adding on and building up only to scrape off and reveal previous marks creates an understood endurance, tension, and conflict. There�s never one refined image, but rather a compressed offering of many visible trials and tribulations. There�s a back and forth and it requires so much patience. How do you handle this?

JC: Having a sense of humor helps. I spend a copious amount of time sanding and painting over things. It is not a very efficient process. Earlier marks are altered when sanding or scraping reveal them anew just as they are changed by being painted over. In addition to patience I think optimism and forgiveness are invaluable. The image, such as it is, emerges from an application of marks that make sense out of what has preceded.

Joyce Conlon, Time Lapse, 2012, acrylic on rag paper mounted on wood panel, 22 x 30 inches

JBK: Colors, patterns, forms and shapes, all overlap and veil each other, but also unveil. You play with privacy and publicity, delving into the world of �under paintings� and cover-ups. Are you intentionally masking over the progression, or is your goal to show everything that has lead up the image before us?

JC: It’s a little of both. The colors, patterns, and shapes are sometimes related and sometimes opposed. As the surface is built up and reduced those relationships shift and reveal others. It’s a game of hide and seek. If visual art is about perception then what is the other side of that; blindness? What is under that rock? I have been thinking about how we never know what we don’t know. My current show is called Camouflage after a painting of the same name and it refers to the illusion that is inherent to paint on a surface and the mystery it creates.

Joyce Conlon , Ungulates, 2012, acrylic and oil on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches

JBK: Tell us about what�s next for Joyce Conlon? Are there any upcoming exhibitions or other creative opportunities?

JC: I currently have a show of 28 paintings up at the East Wing Art Gallery at Mt. Wachusett Community College in Gardner, MA through November 21 and another at the Oxbow Gallery in Northampton, MA in November 2013. In December, I will be part of an international collaborative printmaking exchange with five visiting artists from Montenego that takes place at UMass-Boston and culminates in a show at the Harbor Gallery there. I am also looking forward to creating a series of prints with master printer, Peter Pettengill at Wingate Studio in Hinsdale, NH.

Joyce Conlon, Uphold, 2012, acrylic and spray paint on wood panel, 16 x 20 inches
Image at top: Joyce Conlon, Bilateral, 2009, acrylic on wood panel, 48 x 48 inches. Images courtesy of John Polak.


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  2. I love the way Joyce works as a principle, but even more, I love the outcome. It's organic and exploratory and evocative. Beautiful colors, intriguing layers, compelling shapes…

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comment Anonymous!

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