Michael Joy

Michael Joy is a surrealistic artist working out of Chicago. In three dimensional media he works with molding and casting, often bringing together contradictory and complementary objects. He also works with photoshop and digital collage. We’ve featured the sculpture below, but more work is visible at michaeljoyart.com with prints available for sale.

ST: You’ve spoken about being influenced by Magritte.
What other artists have influenced you or whose work you enjoy?

MJ: Well, I think Magritte really had the largest ‘start up’ influence on me, yet I don’t look at his work very much anymore. Cleary, I did absorb enough of his vibe to appreciate the visual language he developed. Some saw him as more of a cartoonist than a painter, but I enjoy how he could create paradox in a very simple looking image. I think it took a long time for Magritte to find his language and (in my opinion) was just getting started when he was in his later years. His expression of visual language was a great launching point for me to become seriously interested in making art. (My step father gave me a small book about Magritte just before I entered art school. His work was like witnessing a magic trick.)

Of course I enjoy other artists…some include Max Ernst, Pierre Roy, Alexander Calder, Duane Michaels, Man Ray, Steichen, Atget, Andy Goldworthy , Julie Taymor, Julia Margaret Cameron and many more Victorian photographers. Other surrealists can be too dark for me. I pretty much stay clear of the suffering and death type of art. It just doesn’t nourish me.

ST: What TV, movies, or books have most influenced you or are you enjoying now?
MJ: My latest book fascination was Codex Seraphinianus which I found deeply interesting and inspiring. What captured me about this book was that everything in it appeared to be new and original. I couldn’t trace any artistic origins of the drawings. I loved that it looked like a textbook from another planet.

I am a bit boring with TV and movies.. mostly enjoying PBS nature shows, documentaries and science stuff.

The past 6 months I have been on a bender with the Library of Congress’ photographic archives. I learned my image tolerance weighs in at about 3500 images per 6 hour sitting. There are literally 10’s of thousands of images from all over the world covering important events and historical architectural surveys. It is amazing. If all my tax dollars could go to the library of congress, I would be a satisfied tax payer!

Basically, I just pound through the images grabbing the ones my subconscious somehow identifies as meaningful, unique or convincingly moody. I don’t question or analyze my searches.. if I have a response, I copy the image so I can come back to it for more study later. For whatever reason, the process is working as have made nearly 100 new photo collages in just a few months. I love the immediacy of the process as opposed to the heavier time commitment sculpture making can require.

Regarding books, I recently enjoyed reading biographies about Nicolas Tesla and Harry Houdini. Did you know Houdini was a spy for the US government? And did you know that Tesla’s papers were confiscated by the government after his death? Many of which remain classified? Very cool stuff.

ST: Do you get inspiration from other sources such as music or theater? If so does this play into your work directly or indirectly?
MJ: I have to admit that I don’t appear to get direct artistic inspiration from music or theater, however, I listen to music throughout the day and when I am working on art on my computer. My Pandora stations are always stacked up with music from other countries or relaxing music such as Zen meditations, Native American flute or Gregorian Chanting etc. When I am sculpting, I listen to much more playful music such as french rap, swing, lebonese/Arabic rhythms, Belefonte’esque or hawaiin sounds. Any type of music that is upbeat or I don’t know what to expect next is somehow quite satisfying to me.

ST: Magritte was influenced by symbols and language. He could be considered a surrealist of semiotics or cognitive science. Your work shares some of those characteristics of word-play and creating something larger by matching and merging signs and symbols. Can you tell me about your inner process when you’re in your imagination playing around with concepts for potential works?

MJ: Embarrassed to say, I had to google the meaning of semiotics… Now I have a word for this stuff!

Well…typically my process consists of flooding myself with images from photography/history books and architecture and design magazines. When an image strikes me in some way, I save it either in print or remember it. After looking at enough pictures (and I mean A LOT of pictures), I have a subconscious library of images that is bouncing around inside of me just waiting to find its crisscross match. (I would compare it to a chef who has a refrigerator full of ingredients just waiting to be used. He knows how to cook, he just needs to decide what he or his guests are in the mood for.) For me, the visual connections come very quickly once I am calm and have set aside some time for artistic work. I wish I could make the art as fast as quickly as the ideas come forth!

Have you ever driven down the expressway and misread a billboard and made new words or phrases morphed from what the sign actually said? … a sort of lazy reading slur/blur that somehow comes out funny or new? Well, it is like that with images for me. My brain blurs shapes and components together in a watery kind of way. Perhaps it is because I have had so many years of manipulating shapes as a professional mold maker and have little mental resistance to shapes and textures that may appear to be incompatible or unrelated. I learned that for me, a texture is just a texture, it is not a separate or contrasting medium such as wood or plastic. They share a common denominator because I know I can combine, blend or unify them into a single new medium using mold making and casting techniques.

ST: You also have an interest in the design of antique objects. Do concepts of nostalgia play into your work or is it more of a visual preference?
MJ: I think this is more an aesthetic preference. When I was 30, I lived for 3 years (as a caretaker) in an older home that was extremely well made and filled with quality furnishings. I think the hand craftsmanship soaked into my art spirit in some way. I am attracted to hand made things and when they are well made, find them somehow calming. Perhaps that is why I like things from the Victorian age… they were largely handmade or at least made with simple processes and tools.

In addition to that, I just like giving new meaning to old things. It pleases me.


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