Written as a commission from the artist, 2006
Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1966, Jennifer Joseph is a mixed media and installation artist who lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A 1991 graduate of the Moore School of Art & Design, Joseph employs a variety of methods that include the use of synthetic materials, repetitive patterns, and the use of both classical formalism and rule-driven randomness to realize paintings, sculptures, and installations that illustrate what she sees as the organic nature of our synthetic reality.
Joseph began her art career working first in formal figurative painting, but which she abandoned while still in school on exposure to Abstract Expressionism. Ab-Ex offered a departure from formality with its complete removal of subject matters and its emphasis on materials and pure expression, and Joseph soon began working almost exclusively in geometric abstraction. Focusing exclusively on one form at a time – square, circle, rectangle, spiral – Joseph developed a working process which she still uses today, of layering and re-combining a single icon in pattern until new meanings are revealed in the repetition of the form.
It was through these processes that Joseph began to become convinced of a spiritual component to the process of art-making, particularly insofar as the repetitive re-workings of materials through time. Exposed to the work of surrealist photographer Frederick Sommer, Joseph began to consider the possibilities available in juxtaposing both a classical formalism in completed artworks along with a creation process informed by controlled randomness and stochastic chaos. To elucidate her findings, Joseph’s earliest professional showings in 1997 featured a series of works-on-canvas that showed repetitive brush strokes, along with several pieces that were painted with a stochastic process involving the use of pennies dropped on canvas to determine where brush marks were made and which colors were to be used in the marks.
Expanding on these findings, in 1998 Joseph began an exploration of the compositional possibilities available to the artist who would break down the limitation of audience involvement in the work. In “Flexible Structure,” her first major solo exhibition, Joseph’s work consisted of 150 circular wooden discs painted with random spots of color determined by the stochastic process of the previous shows. Attaching magnets to the back of each disc, Joseph arranged the discs at random on metal panels arranged along the interior walls of the gallery, along with signs instructing visitors to feel free to arrange the discs as they wished. “Flexible Structure” was exhibited in two locations in two countries – in the first location, in Atlanta, Georgia, visitors arranged the discs in a more or less organic pattern, while in Tokyo, Japan, visitors arranged the disc in a more formal grid structure. Regardless of the locational outcome, Joseph’s choice of stochastically chosen color schemes and circular discs pre-determined a compositional variety of near infinite possibility, whereby no showing of the work could ever result in the exact same results.
In the midst of these explorations on the effect of random chaos upon her artwork, Joseph was exposed to monochromatic painting, and in 1999 began to explore the process of applying a single oil color on surface. Ruminating on wave patterns with her brush while contemplating stillness in her mind, Joseph’s work in this area was akin to a healing antidote to her other lines of inquiry. The process soon led to two unexpected developments with her work and her life – the handmade paper construction/installation “The Forest,” which showed at James Kelly Contemporary in Santa Fe, New Mexico – and her decision the following year to take time off from her art career to return to school to pursue an understanding of healing through the study of Chinese medicine.
Three years later, Joseph emerged from school to show a series of pieces informed by her studies. The first of these, “#88,” came in a group show at XYZ Gallery It consisted of a 5′ X 2′ stainless steel pan filled with water with over a hundred small sterling silver bowls floating on the surface. Inside each bowl was a small piece of charcoal which were lit for the opening of the show. As the charcoal burned, the bowls would sink to the bottom of the vessel, and over time, the water evaporated, leaving the charcoal remnants lingering on the bottom of the pan. The piece, featuring movement, fire, heat, water, and air, was a commentary on the elements and their interaction with time.
But it was her solo installation show at Evo Gallery in Santa Fe that same year that really brought together the variety of elemental processes, use of materials and space into one place and time. Ruminating on the primary physical tool of the Chinese doctor that she had studied to become, Joseph brought forth a meditation on the power and the presence of the accupuncture needle. A device designed to direct the “electricity” or “chi” within the body’s energy meridians