Growing up just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1970s and 80s, Painter JoAnn Moy pursued a variety of artistic endeavors. This path eventually led her to study fine art and design at Drexel University, where in 1995, she earned a degree in graphic design. While there, she reveled in the culture and art Philadelphia offered.
Hey JoAnn! You say your focus is between creating abstract figures representing human emotion and impressionistic landscapes. What inspired you to work on these subjects?
JoAnn: When I was in school I discovered the art and activism of Keith Haring. His simple line drawings of figures spoke of political issues and at times just ordinary people engaged with each other. I’m interested in the story of someone’s life, sort of visually documenting where they are mentally at a particular moment in time.
And the landscapes, well the bright colors of nature, especially the sky, just make me happy. I’ve had issues with depression, but when I paint and get lost in those colors, time stops and I find peace and acumen in other areas of my life.
What motivates you as an artist? Is it curiosity, the search for beauty or meaning?
JoAnn: All of that for sure. Part of it is meeting the challenge of producing a viable image, going through the process of mixing the paint, spreading it, the process of transferring the real-life image piece by piece onto the canvas.
I was such a weird kid, and would often find myself staring at people, in my mind turning their faces into blocks of shape and color that are created by the direction of light. When I paint, I break the thing apart and reconstruct it one layer at a time. So yes, curiosity. The curiosity of seeing if I can reproduce on canvas what I see in my head.
What is the process from start to final artwork, do you envision it from the beginning or is it a different process?
JoAnn: No, I never really envision a painting from the beginning. Even in the landscapes, I let the paint lead. I almost always use some sort of reference image, and what happens from there depends on which genre I’m working in. First, though I’ll talk about picking that reference image.
With the abstract figures, sometimes my source might be a family photo or an image from the newspaper or TIME magazine. I’ve also used images of mummies as a bouncing off point. This is a little bit of a tangent, but when I discovered that the figure in the foreground of “The Scream” was possibly inspired by a Peruvian mummy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream) I began researching mummies to use as reference material in my work.
Anyway, I usually first print out my reference image in black and white then trace and retrace until I find a few simple lines that define the figure. I like them to be contorted sometimes, their limbs bent perhaps unrealistically or exaggerated. While this idea was inspired by Keith Haring’s work, my style is actually very different. I like to vary line weight, blend color and add texture either with collage or paint.
My landscapes are most often inspired by photographs that friends or family have taken or that I shoot myself. Our house backs up to a wide-open field lined with the most beautiful bank of trees. That view, everchanging with the seasons, has been the source for much of my work. Also, my husband and I go on lots of walks on the trail near our house. There is so much beauty out there to capture and when the sky is bursting with a color I can’t stop myself and take tons of pictures. I prefer working from a photograph rather than in plein air because the light is constantly changing. I don’t have the patience for that. I work big and some of my paintings might take 30+ hours to complete.
Once I choose my subject, I take it apart. I think of Monet painting with cataracts, somewhat blind. I look first to define general areas of color, working from the top left of the canvas, and trying not to get into too much detail. What I like about impressionism is that it leaves a void, a fuzziness, forcing the viewer to engage and sort of finish the details of the painting. Little by little, I then go back across the canvas, zeroing in on smaller sections of defined shape and color while keeping things somewhat loose. That being said though, I am in complete awe of realism painters like one I just discovered O’Neill Scott. His technical precision combined with the emotions his work triggers is utterly beyond words.
How has your art evolved over the years?
JoAnn: Since I moved into a dedicated studio space 18 months ago, I’ve found myself working with cleaner colors. I didn’t realize it at first but my sister-in-law actually pointed out that my colors were looking brighter. It occurred to me that having more space allowed me to have a larger palette and clean my brushes more!
The other thing I’ve learned is to build layers of paint slowly, with thinner paint. I don’t do portraits very often but I did one of my husband and son maybe 8 years ago. In some areas, I can see where I was struggling and the paint is very thick. It was hard to make corrections because of the thickness. Early in 2020, right after moving into the studio I was working on a landscape and found the same thing happening. I love the look and concept of impasto, thick paint with visible brush strokes, but I’ve learned to control it. To make it thick deliberately, by saving the density for when I’m nearly finished with a piece and confident in my marks.
What are some of the stories behind your work?
JoAnn: I have noticed that when I’m more connected to the story behind my work people are more interested.
One of my favorite pieces is titled “The Day I Chased the Sun.” The day I shot the source photo, I was out running errands in Collegeville and I had limited time. As I turned the corner driving towards Wegman’s though I had to pull over and just stare at the sky. I grabbed the camera (my phone of course), jumped out of the car and snapped a few images. Drove a little further and decided I needed to take more pics. I guess I ended up being late for whatever it was I had to do that day, but I was so happy with the images I captured.
I used a palette knife to paint the sky and the smear of the paint reminded me of a smooth buttercream frosting on a birthday cake.
Another one of my favorites is “Twisted Speculation,” which was inspired by a misrepresented mummy. As I mentioned earlier, it is believed that Edvard Munch was inspired by a mummy when he painted “The Scream.” In my research, one of the first mummies I connected with was called Maria.
https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/979425/alien-news-mummy-peru-new-species-of-human-dna-test-3-fingers A three-fingered figure, Maria caused quite a controversy when she was found in Peru as to whether she was human, alien, or a scam. Whatever she was, I needed to paint her. So I did!
In reflecting back to the start of your artistic endeavor, what is the most useful advice you ever received?
JoAnn: Brian Wagner, my painting professor at Drexel, said paint from your arm and shoulder, not your wrist.
You have awards from multiple special recognition awards. What is your favorite award so far, if you could choose one?
JoAnn: I think I would have to choose the one from Light, Space and Time’s 9th All Women Art Exhibition from January 2020. The piece, “Unsung Lake”, was really one of the first works I completed after not painting for a very long time. I love the atmospheric quality it has, and it was sold to a wonderful family last summer.
What was the recent piece you’ve enjoyed working on the most, and why?
JoAnn: I’m currently working on a streetscape of Skippack, PA from a picture I took right outside of my previous studio just about a year ago. This one is unusual for me because it has a human element that I rarely include in my landscapes; people shopping, traffic, lots of activity. The small town of Skippack holds multiple festivals throughout the year, and this particular evening was during Skippack Days, the one everyone waits for. I had finished works displayed for sale, and had brought out my easel, brushes, and palette and set to work. Seeing the scope of my work, the vendor next to me, a 16-year old selling his own line of shoelaces, pointed out the sky and said, “Hey! You’ve got to paint that sky!” My reaction was, well it’s a beautiful sky but it’s surrounded by stuff that’s getting in the way that I don’t want to paint.
I took the photo anyway. A few months go by and I meet painter Susannah Hart Thomer. And her amazing streetscapes. Seeing her work inspired me to go back to the shoelace boy’s idea and paint Skippack. And surprisingly, I’ve enjoyed painting all those details I didn’t think I would.
What do you feel most grateful for about your career, in its current state?
JoAnn: I’m most grateful to my husband Chris for him believing in me. One of his gifts to me for the Christmas of 2019 was a 6-month lease on the studio space in Skippack. Having that forced me to focus on not just the act of painting, but also on branding and marketing myself as an artist.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
JoAnn: This is a tough one. When my studio was in Skippack, I worked in an open corner of the shop at Green Wolf 4010 Gallery. A young couple came into the store and wandered over to my space. The woman said to her partner “Honey, this is what we need. We NEED this painting. It speaks to me. I want it.”
What’s next on the horizon for you?
JoAnn: I just this week moved into my new studio. I am now 1 of 6 resident artists at Eclipse Center for Creative Community in Lansdale, PA. The building just opened with its inaugural show, “Sunshine: Light at the End of the Tunnel” at the end of July. In addition to the studios, it is home to bright and spacious galleries and will have classes at all art levels. I’m so excited to be part of this new venture. https://www.eclipsec3.com/
I also just had a piece accepted into a show at Gallery 840 in Allentown. This is thrilling to me, to have my work on display in another brick-and-mortar gallery. (https://www.gallery840.net/)
What’s next for me is that I’m going to keep painting and getting it out there for the public to see.