Welcome to this week’s edition of Sifting, shifting, and lifting . . . a (mostly) weekly column in which I ask clever, curious, compassionate people my three favourite questions. (It is a 10 minute read. I hope you enjoy it.)
Today, I am featuring Joy Munt. I had the good fortune to meet Joy when we were both students at the University of Victoria in the 1990s. Over the years, I have kept track of her and her art career through social media, but nothing compares to finally sitting down and having a conversation with her.
I hadn’t seen Joy since we bumped into each other at Ikea close to 20 years ago (where she was buying props for her day job as a set decorator). It was a delight to finally catch up with her via Zoom last weekend. We talked about art and community and everything in between.
Before I share that interview with you, here’s Joy’s artist statement, which explains how she creates her incredible, multi-layered, large-scale work far better than I could.
My main brush is a power sander. It allows me to approach my landscapes in the matter in which I perceive them, which is a beautiful world of construction, stasis and deterioration and yet somehow polished and smooth.
My paintings are an expression – a distillation – of the impressions made on my psyche by the landscapes around me, whether it be the prairies in which I grew up, the west coast of my adult years or the short time I spent in a large eastern metropolis.
My process is evident in my art; it’s not something I try to hide, use and then discard, or disguise. The techniques and tools I employ – layers of pigment, sanding, scraping back, lettering – are there, exposed in the finished work. The text I use in my pieces is often found on, or inspired by, the text visible on shipping containers, grain elevators, truck, trains; sometimes I use randomly chosen numbers or letters chosen purely for what they bring to the piece graphically or compositionally.
Joy Munt is a visual artist working and living in Vancouver BC. She attended the University of Victoria (UVic) where she received a BFA in Visual arts with a double major in Sociology and a minor in film studies. While at UVic she did her directed studies in photography and video installation. Fred Douglas was her main advisor and his process and way of thinking still affects her art to this day. Joy made the change in her art practice from video to painting around 2004, and over a number of years worked hard at finding her vision in this medium.
What is engaging your head, heart, and hands? Why?
Chuck Close used to say “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” I like that. If you just sit around all the time waiting for inspiration, you're never going to create anything.
During the first part of the pandemic, however, I had time, but no money. The film industry in Vancouver dried up for seven months. I had no work. No income. I wasn’t creating anything because I didn’t have supplies. And I felt guilty. I wondered, am I a real artist?
Now, I am coming out of this dark space, and I've had an epiphany. I’ve realized I have to work on a large scale. I have to work on all the paintings in a series at once. That's my process. It is how it all comes together. But it takes money.
I did a residency in March. I got ideas for six different series, but I didn’t finish anything solid. I want to do them all, but they cost money. Like, I have 10 still lives designed but they are all photo transfers. Each photo transfer costs $60.
So that's sort of where I am right now. I feel this pressure now that I've shown my work. I feel like I can't walk away or stay away too long because it doesn't look good. You know? It’s been about three years since my last solo show.
There is a tension between making money and making art. You need the money, but the job takes away from the time and energy you have to create.
I don’t mind the long hours. When I was prepping for my last show, I had four months to get ready. I worked three days a week on a film, and every single day that I wasn’t working in film I prepped for the show. I didn’t take a day off for four months, and I loved it. But it cost me $5,000 to get my paintings to Okotoks for the show. Public art galleries don’t really try to sell your work so shows like that end up costing you money. They look great on your CV, but you are out completely.
I always struggle to sell my art because I don’t paint small. And so many people are scared to buy art.
Why do you think they are afraid?
It is a big purchase in a lot of cases. I think they're scared to make a statement or to make the wrong choice (art galleries used to be so snobby).
A friend showed me the work of an artist she likes. I said, you should introduce yourself. Go to her studio. She’s like, what would I say?
You’d say hi. I like your work. Artists love to talk about their work. We know you might not be there to buy something, and that’s okay. I love doing walkthroughs. My favourite part of an art show is the art talk. I always encourage people to touch my work—it’s smooth because I power sand it so much. You usually can’t do that in a gallery so if the artist is right there saying, hey, feel free to touch this, that’s 30 layers of paint, power sanded, they get so excited. They get to be part of it.
What artists or works of art have had a profound impact on the way you see the world and your place in it?
This question is kind of the easiest and the hardest for me to answer. The first influence would be my directed studies with Fred Douglas. He became my teacher and my friend.
You know, I am dyslexic, right? And I’m old. When I was in grade four, they talked about learning disabilities, but it was the 1970s. No one really did anything about it. I always managed to get by. (For me, it's just words. I don't read a lot because I'm a slow reader. I skim a lot.) When I entered the visual arts program at UVic, when I walked through the door, I thought, this is my language. Conceptual art, abstract thinking, this is my language. There was a moment of awareness like, oh, someone speaks like me. It’s like someone showed me a new alphabet.
Fred taught me not to force things together. We talked about juxtaposition a lot. I did video installation and montage with him. That experience still affects my work to this day. Rather than trying to contrive or force things together, I'm always sort of playing and that's sort of the biggest influence he had. He also taught me how to look at work and analyze it.
Honestly, I've learned more from the BBC’s art documentaries than I ever did in art school.
Except for Fred.
Except for Fred. I just loved his way of thinking. He was so funny, so scattered.
We really bonded over Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. We both connected on that concept of ‘weight.’ How you could just as easily make one decision as another. How we put weight on things. How my video installation was weighty and how it was not. How we struggle over decisions.
Edited Nov. 8, 2021 to add this video on Joy’s favourite Rauschenberg painting.
There are so many good people working to transform themselves and our world. Who would you like to lift up?
I am going to answer the question from my perspective as an artist. The past year and a half has been pretty dark. I’ve felt really isolated. Coming out of the pandemic, I really need to connect with people, to have conversations.
I have a group of people, artists, I meet with once a month. There are just four of us now. I want more people in the group. You just can’t make art in a bubble. You must get that, as a writer. You need conversations. Not just conversations at an art opening when you are sipping wine, although I do like free wine and art openings. Don’t get me wrong. But we need to ask: what inspired you today? Did you see that documentary or like that show? I feel that's what's lacking right now.
I think what you're saying is powerful. Creating and holding those spaces for conversation. That's something we can all do, and it doesn't necessarily cost anything.
We all need to find our people. People we can talk to. And, for me, it doesn't have to be another visual artist. Maybe it's a writer. I know there are people trying to create that environment, to bring artists together. I think that is brilliant. I mean, I wouldn’t have thought about Kundera today if we weren’t talking.
Can you recommend a group that is bringing people together to have these kinds of conversations?
Yes, Thrive Art Studio is creating a community for artists. I like what they are doing, although their approach isn’t right for me. It is quite structured, and I need something more informal. Like the monthly group that I am part of.
Thanks. I will check it out. I also recommend The Creative Good. I’ve benefitted so much from the community and resources founder Jill Margo has created and continues to nurture.
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