Interview by: John Wisniewski
AMFM: When did you begin drawing and painting, Joyce?
I was the “class artist” in elementary school. Because I was terrible at sports, I spent all my extracurricular time, at school and at home, making art.
AMFM: Who are a few artists who are influential to you?
Simone Martini, Duccio, Giovanni Bellini, Gentile da Fabriano, Fra Angelico, Antonello da Messina, Vittore Carpaccio; Persian miniature painters Mir Musavvir, Mir ‘Ali Shir Nawa’i, Diwan of Hafiz, Khamsa of Nizami, Haft Awrang of Jami. But I have been influenced by so many other kinds of art, like the interiors of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain and the mosques in Isfahan, Iran!
AMFM: What kind of reaction do you receive from spectators, Joyce?
Because my art is detailed and visually demanding, there are two different kinds of reactions. Most people walk into the gallery, quickly look around, glaze over and leave. But there are others who are drawn up to the surface, who slowly move along, taking in the subplots: the decorative layers and subversive narratives.
AMFM: What inspires your art?
I have been inspired by books, by travel, by conversations, by memories. Exploring foreign cities always stimulates me: the spaces as they expand and contract, unexpected juxtapositions, surface ornament, signage, color and light as it changes with the seasons and hours of the day, movement of people in the streets. It might be a newspaper story – a map or diagram that accompanies that story. Sometimes these flashes lead right to new work. Other times, they float around for years before taking form. It could be the work of another artist, as we are always in a dialogue with one another.
AMFM: Is it difficult for women artists to begin their careers in art?
The early years are hard for all artists, especially now, with the cost of living escalating. I always encourage young women artists to hold onto their communities and support one another. I could never have survived without my network! I had the great good fortune to come of age as an artist during the rise of second wave feminism (1970-71). There was so much ferment, excitement, energy, optimism, creativity – we really thought we could change the world. And to some extent, we have. So for me, this will always be the model for survival.
AMFM: Are you a feminist first, or first an artist or a feminist artist?
I’m a feminist artist.
Throughout my career, I have tried to fuse a love for widespread artistic traditions with an activist temperament. Beginning in 1970, energized by my participation in the feminist art movement in Los Angeles and New York, I became a founding member of the Heresies publishing collective and an originating figure of the Pattern and Decoration movement. – JOYCE KOZLOFF
AMFM: Are you influenced by pop art, Joyce? What is your opinion of Pop Art?
Pop Art? We’ve all been influenced by Pop Art! When I was a student, it was the hot new art movement. I recently revisited the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the work seemed as fresh and relevant as ever. Without Pop Art, I would not have been so fast and loose with my wide-ranging appropriations from high and low culture. I like to say that I’m still a decorative artist, still a feminist artist, still a public artist, still a political artist, still a cartographic artist, that each chapter in my creative life is layered onto the others. I had not thought about adding Pop Art to that list!
AMFM: Could you tell us about the Heresies Collective, Joyce? Why did you join them and what was their goal?
I didn’t join – I was part of the group that created Heresies! We were women artists and writers who desired a public forum about the ideas that we were passionately discussing among ourselves in the mid-1970s. The publishing collective met for two years before we could agree on a name and a structure that reflected who we were. The group fund raised, designed, edited, and distributed the magazine. Heresies was a quarterly journal about feminism, art and politics; each issue was devoted to a different theme, and was produced by a new “editorial collective” of women committed to exploring it. It has always been difficult to explain this complex, inefficient, idealistic journal, which was as much a process as a product. These were the first four issues: “Art and Politics”, “Patterns of Communication and Space among Women”, “Lesbian Art and Artists”, “Women’s Traditional Arts/The Politics of Aesthetics” (the issue that I worked on). We would discuss, argue, shout, laugh and cry late into the night as each sub-group re-invented the wheel. Many of the pieces that appeared are now classics (including one I co-authored with Valerie Jaudon, “Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture”) and the issues are collectors’ items. Who would have imagined?
Heresies continued until 1992, always renewing itself with new participants; most of the original members, like myself, burned out after a few years. It survived longer than other early feminist magazines because of its flexibility!
AMFM: Could you tell us about your work with The Peace Movement?
Like many people of my generation, I participated in peace marches and demonstrations during the US war against Vietnam. It was my coming of age time politically. Then early in this century, some of us formed a group during the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan: Artists Against the War. We organized actions and used our artists’ skills to dramatize the horrors of aerial bombardment and the lies that our government was feeding us. I brought these concerns into my private art as well. After working for more than a decade with maps and globes, which are inherently political, I began to utilize cartography to reveal the ways in which imperial powers impose their will, expressing these ideas within my own visual language.
AMFM: Joyce, does art have the power to cause change?
Hah! Most of the time, not. The classic example is Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937), which created a widespread awareness of aerial warfare during the Spanish Civil War. Although it was painted a very long time ago, images from that piece appear whenever there is a peace march. I have often wondered why no political artwork has reached that degree of iconic recognition since – perhaps because our networks of communication have changed so dramatically. Films and books affect the way people think more directly, and today’s media reaches a wide audience instantaneously. That said, I’m watching the community based art projects in cities like Detroit, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and New Orleans that socially conscious younger generation artists are generating.