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Grit & Gilt
The art of Amanda Joseph
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
There are many talented artists in the world. And while a certain degree of a genre or technique may come naturally to an artist, the majority of art is actually very replicable through extreme discipline. This is what makes a talented emerging artist like Amanda Joseph so exciting — she has a keen natural eye for color abstractions, has chosen to paint in a style which takes extreme discipline and time, and to top it off, she is giving this pursuit true gravity and developing a voice to accompany her astonishing images.
Amanda Joseph, originally from Holgate, Ohio, says that she was always inclined toward the arts, and was encouraged to express herself by her mother. At first, Joseph only saw her art as an enjoyable past time, but not a career. After originally wanting to go to college for engineering, she attended a high school workshop at the University of Saint Francis and realized that she could get scholarships and go to college for art instead. After graduating from USF, Joseph was accepted into Notre Dame's MFA program for painting where she is currently finishing up her first year.
Joseph claims an eccentric and intricate list of influences for her current work, including a diverse range of artistry like music, film, fine art, and literature. Even more striking are the high key dichotomies present in each of these influences. Musically, Joseph mentions electronica dance pop like Ke$ha and Lady Gaga, followed by the somnambulant Elliott Smith. In film, the dichotomy widens even more with the experimental and challenging "GUMMO" and "Reqiuem for a Dream", listed just before sarcastic horrors like "Planet Terror," followed closely by more teen-ish pop influences like "Mean Girls" and "Clueless". As more traditional fine art influences, Joseph includes artists like Marilyn Minter, Ivan Albright, Jenny Saville, Chuck Close, and 16th century Northern European vanitas. An even more delightful reference that Joseph makes is Natalia Fabia, a rather hot contemporary painter, whose 2009 exhibition "Hooker DreamEscape" which highlights women in a beautiful although not necessarily appealing way, much like Joseph's work.
Joseph's work itself, like her influences, is anything but simple. While she has only had a few years to create her practice, Joseph's dedication and discipline is evident. Joseph works primarily with up-close portraits of females (with a few exceptions), crafted from finely edited photographic studies. Then, with layer upon layer of brushstrokes, Joseph resurrects their image onto the canvas into a pearlescent figure, but not one exactly full of life. This is a key the greatness of Joseph's work. While most painters are lauded for mimicking life through airy and virtuoso paint-work, Joseph very bluntly makes known that this is not meant to be an exact replica of the sitter. Joseph's images act like the un-dead equivalents of the master's works. They hint at a life that could be there, but scream about a life that was there. This palpable sense of loss in Joseph's work makes it melancholy, but also a little nihilistic. Amanda Joseph isn't trying to coax the viewer into seeing the world in a different way, painting after painting giving more glimpses of how she sees things. Joseph is recreating the world how she wishes in her images, and dropping them into the public, letting us fend for ourselves.
While Joseph uses heavy handed imagery in some cases, like hands plunging down throats, sores which relate to sexually transmitted diseases, and a general sense of "grossness," her conceptual framework is very strong. "Basically, my work is looking to play with the psychological perceptions of women of a lower class as dirty and diseased, promiscuous, uneducated, and animalistic."
Joseph uses those heavy handed images to achieve this sense of perceptual play without needing to visual illustrate this or through the use of a narrative. Images like "Nothing New For Trash Like You", which depicts a nude woman, posing and looking knowingly back at the viewer, are heavily referencing feminist theory. The image is questioning "the gaze," that mythical patriarchal ideal of women throughout art history, being placed into a position to be viewed. By placing the women into a position to "gaze back" Joseph references first-wave feminist art. Joseph's amplifications of the woman's pores, veins, skin discoloration, and cancer-like lesions upon her breasts, end up de-sexualizing a sexualized pose. In this way, "Nothing New For Trash Like You" also works into second wave feminist art in a similar way to the reclamation of derogatory phrases.
Other pieces like "The Sweet Swell of Success", and "Wretched, Wretching (Suck it)" deal with eating disorders and physical abuse respectively. Joseph is trying to create images of women that are in opposition to the tailored commercial images we are accustomed to. While this impulse in itself is nothing new, Joseph's disciplined lack of tact in examining it are both refreshing and chilling. In general, Joseph's work deals with the general body dismorphic disorder malaise that women find themselves in growing up in media rich culture. Specifically, Joseph examines her own work through the lens of small town America, and the ways that young women there have little to no opportunity to develop themselves culturally. As Joseph eloquently puts it, this leads to a pro forma of "other people become an avenue for self-construction," many times leading to baser and negative development.
Joseph's work is both visually stunning, and conceptually intriguing — a rare feat for an emerging artist. With her considerable physical youth and intellectual maturity, she has the choice to continue travel far down the road into the contemporary art world. Already, she is being courted by a gallery in Chicago, and exhibits regularly in Fort Wayne. In the end, Amanda Joseph's talent is only eclipsed by her sincere humility as she states, "I just want to be an accountable artist."
To see Amanda Joseph's work:
Opens January 29th
Ryan Hadley Studio
821 S. Calhoun, Suite 200
Fort Wayne, IN
"Winter Group Show"
January 7th-end of February
300 W. Superior St.