Interview with Joyce Coco
Joyce has a studio in the Bella Glass Art Studios, on the edge of Denver's River North district. A new Light Rail station is a few blocks away. We meet to discuss her relationship to Spark gallery just prior to her exhibition there.
Why did you join Spark?
It was so many years ago... I think the gallery was still on Osage Street. Prior to joining I was a member of DAWA, Denver Area Women Artists, and I knew Annalee (Schorr) through that group. Annalee suggested that Spark might be a good place for me to show my work.
What were your ambitions then as an artist?
I don't approach life like that. I let it happen - like peeling an onion... It seems I get into trouble if I have goals.
I love to paint, and Spark is a good place to show my work.
When I was younger I had studied with Edith Niblo, a wonderful teacher at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School. Edith was truly a guiding light.
After studying with Edith I decided to enroll at the University of Denver for my B.F.A. Edith said, "Don't do it, it'll ruin you". I enrolled anyway. I wanted this experience. I did not find the painting teachers at the school to be very competent as teachers. At that time, I was also very interested in sculpture. Actually, the art was more akin to installation.
Can you describe your installations?
They were huge - made from found items such as door frames and windows, and even bones. I was fortunate to have the assistance of my husband Al and my son Brandon to help me haul and prepare the components. Al had his career as a lawyer, and Brandon went off to school; and I simply could not do this type of work by myself. The installations are all gone. There was no place to keep them.
I have always loved color. Along with this love was the pragmatic aspect of painting, I could do the work alone.
At Spark gallery I have always exhibited my paintings.
Have you had much experience exhibiting at commercial galleries?
Over the years I have shown with many commercial galleries, in Denver and elsewhere. There was always some reason why the relationship did not continue. Perhaps there was a disagreement over business protocol. Several galleries simply closed.
In some instances I would pursue the gallery, in other cases the gallery would seek me out. It is better that way. When you approach a gallery, they are thinking, "Oh no, another artist...". When they seek you out, they want you. I find it very difficult to approach a gallery on my own. It is very intimidating.
At this point in my life, what I most value about commercial galleries is the assistance they provide. The gallery will handle the publicity, hang the work, maintain the gallery, and even endeavor to sell the art.
What are your thoughts about Spark now?
The camaraderie of the gallery is very important to me, our group of artists. There are continual changes in membership, and this is both a good and bad thing. I am very happy with the gallery. The energy that I put into the gallery I feel is reciprocated by my peers. I am very happy that there are members who have taken on the responsibilities of keeping us current and engaged with the numerous forms of social media.
There are times when I would like a more critical dialogue regarding the art that we exhibit. But then, I know; it is hard. We often have thin skins, and a well intentioned critique can sting if not articulated well.
Can you discuss some of the paintings in your upcoming exhibition?
[Joyce shows me a painting organized in a grid, composed of many small squares of varying reds and magentas. Between these areas of red/magenta a blue bleeds through. The painting is called "La Perle"]
This painting is an homage to my sister Perle who had a fiery, passionate life.
The painting was organized with a grid, first in pencil. On the right side the grid is replaced by three vertical bands. These bands share the same color palette as the small squares. I do not plan the painting beforehand. The painting tells me what to do. I cannot tell you why, in this painting, the grid has been replaced by the three vertical bands; and why, in other paintings, the grid defines the entire painting.
When I begin a painting I do have an idea for color, for colors I want to explore. The painting "Primavera" is comprised of varying hues of green. I think the genesis for this painting is our wonderful spring, with all of the lush green that surrounds us.
Edith Niblo had us explore color by asking us to do countless small 4" x 5" color studies. We really became acquainted with the subtleties of color and the spiritual power of color. I suppose those lessons are blooming once again.
Joyce would like to close by paraphrasing the poet Billy Collins
"All they want to do is tie a poem (painting) to a chair with a rope and torture a confession out of it." Often people who view paintings try to force a meaning and even the artist sometimes tries to "torture a confession", especially when titling their work.
Interview with Madeleine Dodge
Madeleine and I meet for coffee at Pablo's. We sit outside, under an umbrella at 6th and Washington.
Why did you join Spark?
Before joining Spark I was already a member of another co-operative gallery in Denver. I was looking for a greater level of intellectual exchange with other artists. I knew members of Spark gallery, and many of these artists also taught and were comfortable discussing art. I was looking for this kind of community.
Have you found this?
When I joined I did feel that energy. People do approach their art in a thoughtful way. I wish we had more time to talk about our art, and to be together discussing our work. There is a lot of isolation in the studio. In years past artists formed communities in bars, ateliers, and cafes. Now, perhaps, our gallery can be the place for that kind of exchange.
There is a fine line in terms of honesty. People think certain things about the work however they do not always express it. There could be another time and place for more candid critiques.
Artists seem to think differently. Part of being an artist is coming to terms with that. There is a unique synergy within a community of artists that can be very supportive. At Spark there is exists a healthy competitive spirit that pushes us to do better work, to explore and grow.
Many years ago I shared a studio with maybe ten other artists in an empty industrial space. The teacher Edith Niblo would make periodic studio visits. Edith was a guiding spirit for many of us and she would encourage us to speak about our art. She had decided that her mission in life was to assist artists to achieve a fulfilling practice. The legacy of Edith has shaped my thinking of art to this day, and it informs my expectations of our group at Spark.
Have you had much experience exhibiting at commercial galleries?
I have had relationships with perhaps four or five galleries. The galleries looked strong however it seems that for one reason or another the gallery would relocate or fail.
A relationship with a gallery is intimate, like a marriage. Sometimes the relationship can become strained, when your art evolves and the gallery wants you not to change, or when the gallery's ideas about art evolve in a direction different from yours.
I am open to a relationship with a commercial gallery, however I am not certain that this is the time.
Commercial galleries will do a great deal of the work that artists are often not able to do, such as promotion and selling. Commercial galleries have a whole
different structure than co-operatives. I am not sure that Spark could incorporate the attributes of a commercial gallery without hiring people dedicated to that purpose. The business of selling art is very difficult and complex. I do not sell my art, the art sells itself.
What are your thoughts about Spark and the co-operatives?
Denver is very fortunate to have such a great, well developed co-operative gallery system. It is an amazing foundation. Co-operative galleries are welcoming to artists and they provide the opportunity for artists to exhibit their work. They allow artists to participate in the full life cycle of a work of art.
Until the work of art it seen, it is not complete.
Can you discuss some of the work in your upcoming exhibition?
The body of work in this exhibit consists of digital imagery that documents the oxidation of steel - Rust. In my garden I have many smaller pieces of steel plate. This steel was intended to be used as substrates for paintings. Over several years I began to observe these beautiful patterns of weathering and rust, and the incredible and subtle range of color that would accompany this process.
The oxidation process is allowed to continue for a number of seasons. When I want to halt the process I seal the rusted steel. There is an amazing amount of color to be discovered. I have formed a very fruitful relationship with a digital printing studio called Nocerino. The steel is brought to them and photographed. The images are then enlarged to a point just prior to where pixillation would distort the image.
As I am working I do feel a certain responsibility to my colleagues in Spark. With certain members I have an internal dialogue, with an imagined critique. It is a kind of self-critique. There is a responsibility to keep growing as an artist, and to create good work.