Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why I Make Art?

 Joyce Owens
For anyone to spend a lifetime pursuing art takes fortitude; for a black woman to persist in making art it continues to take even  more. 

My Blackness, negritude, Afro-Afri-African American, and the other nouns that are applied to me that I will not touch, signal the existence of a precarious road that one is born to, as the royals are, but from which one cannot resign. 

We are born into what we call "race" (same as gender). Race is genetic. It is permanent. It is a matter of Anthropology, and survival. Yes, survival! People who survived in a particular climate lived to produce offspring. Our ancestors could survive the conditions in the place where civilization started, Africa, and flourished. The dark skin, curly hair, broad nostrils, etc. matched the environment. As Africans migrated survival depended on  evolving traits that allowed people to survive in other climates and conditions. (think of the Sherpas who have the lungs to climb Mt. Everest because they have adapted to the conditions; they lead the "adventurers" to the summit)!

Unfortunately, "race" has been twisted to mean something other than the anthropological definition. And it is a continuing trial for black people within racist societies. Born out of ignorance and expediency, some of the racist tendencies that started hundreds of years ago hang on.
"Visions of Our 44th President", Joyce Owens

"Visions of Our 44th President", Joyce Owens

But I think that most Americans of African descent would not exchange our selves to be some other self for the world. 

Besides, that might make a softer cushion than I need. I could address women's issues in my work. I could deal with no issues, just mark making, color theory, etc. on their own are compelling challenges. I choose that which touches me every day.

I do not interpret my history as a dark past (no pun intended). I believe that stressing an understanding of what we have overcome and accomplished, rather than what we have suffered, will help us build on that legacy and not one of victimization. In my portraits, as well as my more conceptual work, I look to the survivors who lived long lives, meeting obstacles as all humans do and overcoming them, persisting despite them. I choose work over complaints, action over excuses, risk over security, and study over ignorance.


I paint the stories I care about and have done so since I was an undergraduate years ago. I do pay attention to current fashion and trends in contemporary art practice, but my vision doesn't depend on trends. I have been attracted to using found materials since I was a graduate student in New Haven, Connecticut; Louise Nevelson was an influence and later Betty Saar, Art Deco, and Joseph Cornell. While at Yale University I traveled around with a classmate looking for “stuff” in alleys. I delight in facilitating the transformation from a mechanical component to an art object.

Assemblages from found materials, Joyce Owens

I tend to use color intensely or not at all, working in black and white sometimes to not distract from the force of the character. Kathe Kollwitz and Charles White were early and persistent influences. 

"Because I Am Free", Joyce Owens (Preston Jackson collection)
I have traced my unusual color sense to my mother and her decorations in our home. It was pointed out to me as a very young artist, when I had no idea what it meant, that I was a “natural colorist.”

No matter the media, the size, the content, at the end of the day I simply choose to be an artist.


  1. Joyce, what a beautiful and touching post. Love the paintings as well, especially the first one shown at the top of the post!!

    1. Thanks so much, Stephanie....I appreciate that!

  2. Miss Joyce,
    I enjoyed your post. Quite charming and I love how positive your attitude is, not to mention your artistic ability. Wanted to send a warm hello from your Minneapolis Skyway Tour Guide. I hope you had a wonderful time here and come back to visit us soon...maybe a local exhibit is in order? Jude Stephens

    1. Hi Jude: I am amazed that I am just seeing your lovely comment! I would love to return to Minneapolis for an exhibition, I just need the wishes! and thanks!!

  3. Replies
    1. Andrew, I JUST saw your comment! Thanks so much!