Discovery Series: an interview with Joyce Ho
(June 29, 2011) Joyce Ho captivated us with her disconcerting, dramatically staged paintings – not only are they masterfully executed, but her color palette is unusually stunning. A Taiwanese interdisciplinary artist who received her M.A. from the University of Iowa, Joyce has an innate ability to structure a subtly disturbing, high-tension scenes. In addition to working on her own art, Joyce has been selected by the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei to orchestrate the group exhibitions of Taiwanese new generation artists touring in Shanghai and Beijing, and works with Riverbed Theater in Taiwan.
COMPANY: How did you get started as an artist?
Joyce: I moved to the United States from Taiwan when I was 14. This experience of being transplanted from my home, family, and culture had a huge impact on me and of course my work. While it was liberating to raise myself with my two sisters in the US, I was unsettled by the sudden sense of dislocation.
After graduating from college, I moved back “home” to Taiwan, but after living in the U.S. for eight years, I found that I did not fit into my own culture. This sense of liminalty, of being Taiwanese while also feeling disconnected from my heritage plays a huge role in my work. In 2008, I started working with the Taiwanese avant-garde theatre company Riverbed Theatre, and eventually moved back to the states and finished my MA (University of Iowa) in painting in 2010.
COMPANY: How has your work developed since you started making art? Have your paintings always been so thematically and stylistically cohesive?
Joyce: Many of my early paintings were based on performances from Riverbed Theatre productions. The company had staged a number of works inspired by visual artists ranging from Magritte to Francis Bacon. There was something exciting about adding a final stage to the transformative process of fine art to theatre, then back to fine art. But whereas these sets and props created by Carl Johnson used a dark, rough palette of burnt umber and yellow ochre, I used a luminescent palette of cadmium yellow and orange, energizing the work with a different intensity and focus. The company’s artistic director Craig Quintero encouraged this process and also started to incorporate my paintings into the performances. I also created two-dimensional masks that could be used in the productions.
When I compose my images I often use my father or sister as models, and my parents’ home as the “set.” I love the idea of transplanting actors from the theatre into our apartment and merging these two worlds.
The images I paint all have some disturbing quality, whether it’s the angle of the character’s head or the awkwardness of the distorted bodies. In order to complicate these unsettling images, I use strong yellow hues to create a warm lighting that emanates throughout the entire space. I like the idea of “peaceful violence,” of seducing the viewer with bright colors while simultaneously confronting them with damaged, unsettling characters.
COMPANY: What attracts you to painting as opposed to other mediums? Are you planning to work in other media?
Joyce: I am very interested in the narrative quality of painting. Paintings, like theatre, have the ability to draw spectators into another world. I want the spectator to put him or herself into the painting and finish its story. I view my work as a starting point for the audience to move forward from, rather than a conclusive story in itself.
Paintings have a tactility that digital artwork can never replicate. In this era of mimetic excess, mass production and cloning, there is something endearing about the honesty and frailty of human touch that resonates through simple brush strokes.
COMPANY: How do you start a new painting? Do you use models? Your compositions are very theatrical, how do you set them up?
Joyce: I normally spend a few months developing a series of images, and then over the course of an evening take a number of photographs and experiment with different compositions and lighting. For my works in my house, I choose rooms with more angular architecture and multiple lighting sources. New high rise apartments in Taipei feel very inhuman with their cold, reflective marble floors, fluorescent lights, and long corridors. These apartments are more like conference rooms or hotels.
For my last painting, I used my sister as the model. I had her wrap her head into a huge cotton ball and rest it on a table at a very uncomfortable angle. The process did not go very smoothly - we had to stop shooting every three minutes because she was afraid of suffocating. I have always been against the cliché of artists having to “suffer for their artwork.” In this case, it was my sister who suffered!
COMPANY: What are you working on now?
Joyce: I am currently showing a sculpture and painting in the “Future Pass” exhibition - a collateral event of the 54th Venice Biennale. I am also directing a show, “Just For You,” as part of Riverbed Theatre’s Festival. The show is taking place in a hotel room in Taipei, and each performance is limited to one audience member. It is an exciting challenge to progress from a single frame image like those in my paintings to a 45-minute sequence of images. I am interested in the magical process of bringing images to life and moving from two-dimensional oil and canvas to three-dimensional movements and sounds.