Joyce J. Scott (b. 1948 Baltimore, MD) delves into the extremes of human nature by conflating humor and horror as well as beauty and brutality, Scott’s primarily figurative sculptures infuse a deep sense of humanity into complex societal and political issues. Incorporating her trademark free-form and off-loom glass bead weaving with that of blown glass and found objects, she comments on matters of racism, sexism, violence, cultural stereotypes as well as themes of spiritual healing. She says, “I am very interested in raising issues…I skirt the borders between comedy, pathos, delight, and horror. I believe in messing with stereotypes, prodding the viewer to reassess, inciting people to look and then carry something home – even if it’s subliminal – that might make a change in them.” The visual richness of Scott’s objects starkly contrasts with the weight of the subject matter that they explore. Embedding cultural critique within the pleasurable experience of viewing a pristinely crafted object, her work mines history to better understand the present moment.
In the late 1970’s Scott began exploring glass beadwork, a very labor and time intensive technique particularly after she began utilizing the peyote stitch technique, which would become her primary medium. As her work developed, she began to also incorporate blown glass, which interests her as a natural material that exhibits a full spectrum of color and luminosity. In 1992 she was a visiting artist at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state, and most recently she has made repeated trips to a glass studio on the island of Murano in Italy to further her practice. Consistent throughout her oeuvre is the incorporation of found objects and relics from various cultures, whether it be West African sculpture or European porcelain figurines, these further the universal approach of her practice.
Balancing autobiographical references with cosmic and more broadly political and sociological content, Scott’s visual lexicon integrates elements from a variety of cultural traditions. These include Mexican influences stemming from her postgraduate studies in Mexico, West African Yoruba weaving techniques, Native American beadwork methods, and transcendental Buddhist belief systems. Perhaps most importantly, the Southern United States traditions of quilting, weaving, and beadwork are integral to Scott’s practice and are deeply rooted in her own family history. Her work is at once richly pluralistic and also powerfully rooted in her distinctly African-American Baltimore community, which has deeply informed her values and experience. Scott embraces, and in the process subverts, simplistic stereotypes about the scope of African-American art and life. Racial typecasting and hostility are overtly addressed in many of Scott’s works which she takes on directly and poignantly.
As described by Nancy Princenthal in her recent New York Times article: “Indeed you can’t make out what these sculptures are about without coming closer than you feel you should — and seeing things you won’t soon forget.” Scott’s complex art lures the viewer in through an unexpected balance of seductive beauty, exceptional technical skill, an unyielding sense of humor, and sharp critique. This confronts viewers with often unsettling and powerful messages, perhaps resulting in Scott’s goal of inciting reassessments of societal issues within individuals. Ultimately her work amounts to something far greater than the sum of its parts, a multifaceted whole that is entirely original, striking, and thought provoking. A prestigious MacArthur Fellowship recipient in 2016, her worked is included in such collections as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Museum of American Art in Washington DC, and the Yale University Art Gallery.
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