Friday, April 10, 2015

Joyce Kozloff

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

Joyce Kozloff’s new show at the DC Moore Gallery (March 26th to April 25th) is the culmination of over four years of work in which she has returned to ideas that had once dominated the paintings of her earlier career. One of the founders of the Pattern and Decoration movement in the 1970s, she says that she and the other artists in the movement deliberately set out to “make the most decorative work we could possibly make” in an effort to remove the stigma and the pejorative assumptions associated with the word “decoration” (Pattern doesn’t come in for quite the same levels of dismissal). As she started her career in the 1970s, she knew that her response to richness of the visual world of Islamic cultures in particular meant that she risked being consigned to the lower reaches of the art world hierarchy but she became involved with feminist collectives that gave her support, persevered and now, she feels, is witnessing an almost seamless absorption of pattern and decoration into contemporary art. “… none of them have even heard of  Pattern and Decoration!”

So you have been busy …

Very busy. And I have a second show at FIAF with a different body of work that’s in a different space. I haven’t shown in New York since September 2010. So this is four and a half years of work.
Joyce and her husband artist and writer Max Kozloff purchased their Soho loft in 1974. In 1989 the loft was renovated by architect Barry Holden.
As a birthday present to Joyce, husband Max asked Chic Sgroi to carve this wooden restaurant sign. Max painted the sign and Joyce added the finishing touches.
A large ficus tree, which grew from a tiny plant, dominates a corner of the loft's dining area.
On the far wall 'Voice,' a 1966 lithograph by Jasper Johns, hangs next to a 2014 painting by Max Kozloff.
You were saying before that you can be very obsessive and your work seems to be very meticulous. Is being obsessive the only way to get a lot of work done?

I think … it seems to be for me. They’re all done except one over there—I’ll probably be working on it until the last minute. It’s very labor intensive work.

Are you only obsessive in your work or are you obsessive about things outside of work?

Um … I’m … I guess I’m probably obsessive about other things too.

Your house is very neat and tidy.

That’s true. Except for my husband’s space. I have to have my studio organized to work otherwise, you know, I’m winding down now but I have to have my paints organized. I think in general, artists’ studios are alot more efficient than American industry.
Looking towards the front entryway of the loft. Work by Nina Yankowitz and Ida Applebroog hang above a table, made from a fireplace that a friend rescued from demolition. On the right wall is one of the nine paintings in Joyce's 'Silk Route' series.
On a kitchen wall, a page from 'The Joy of Ornament' by Robert Kushner hangs above a graphite drawing by Charles Ramsburg. The ceramic bowl is by Betty Woodman.
Ex- votos from Naples hang above the kitchen clock and a stack of Joyce's handmade tiles. The tiles on the kitchen table were painted by Joyce for a now-closed Boston restaurant.
You’re the first artist we’ve interviewed who does a truly decorative type of painting and because we often interview people about decorating, it’s an interesting leap for us.

Well I was part of this movement in the 1970s called Pattern and Decoration and this is a return to that. I mean, I had moved away from that and I never thought I would come back to it but through a series of circumstances, I ended up wanting to pull it together with the mapping. I do think there’s a relationship between mapping and pattern.

Well perhaps we’re trying to pattern the world by making maps of it.

Yeah. It’s a way of moving through space and organizing space, both three-dimensional and two-dimensional. I like maps but I don’t have a particularly good sense of direction.
A glimpse into the main seating area.
The carpet is an early 20th century Caucasian kilim from the now defunct Nomad on Crosby Street.
A wall of books divides Max's office from the main living space.
From the top: a small photo by Max, an oil by Dotty Attie, and a pastel by Irving Petlin hang near the door to Max's office/studio.
Small toys that belonged to Joyce and Max's now grown son are grouped atop bookcase shelves.
A small ceramic head by Nancy Fried hangs above a photo by Judy Fiskin.
The fire extinguisher hangs above a fresco by Joyce and an Indian painting on paper. To the side, sticking out is a doorknob ruffle by Barbara Zucker.
Do you like maps because they represent that fantasy of travel?

Yes, the fantasy of travel. I love to travel. And there’s a show now called Mapping Brooklyn and there are a whole lot of younger artists who mostly live in Brooklyn and everybody comes to it for a different reason but maps are the way we navigate cyberspace now. Maps and charts are in our face all the time. I think in a way, maps are more ubiquitous in contemporary art.

So why do you think you came back to this kind of work? Was it your travels on the Silk Road?

Well, that is part of it. It was just two years ago and we travelled from Xian to Kashgar. You know I had been very, very inspired by Islamic pattern. In the 70s I had travelled in North Africa and the Middle East and I just have such an affinity for the visual imagery of that world, the richness of that visual world … I don’t know it just excites me. And then I went on this trip and that [region] is Muslim China, and again I was in that world. It reminded me of the things that I loved when I was younger and that I’d gotten away from. But it was also that in 1977 I made these two books called “If I Were a Botanist” and “If I Were an Astronomer” and they were books of Islamic pattern that somehow I lost. I felt this emptiness in my stomach every time I thought of it because I loved the books.
A view into the living room.
Vintage photographs collected by Max (left) and a Claes Oldenburg drawing of Swedish knackebrod surround a work by Morgan Levy, 'My Sisters are not Sisters'.
A large painting by Max, 'Dorian Gray in Orchid Land,' hangs over the living room couch. Joyce made the coffee table with tile remnants from two public art projects: one in Minnesota, the other in Los Angeles.
Another view of the seating area.
A close up of Joyce's coffee table.
What do you mean “that somehow you lost” these books?

They disappeared from a drawer in my studio! I’ve looked everywhere. In the back of my mind I always wanted to do something with them. But my assistant, whose name is Morgan Levy, had digitized them and she said we could work on them, blow them up and make paintings out of them. I said, “I’m not going to do that! That’s what I did forty years ago!” And then I thought about it for a while and thought, okay, let’s try one.

So what do you after you blow the images up?

Then they’re printed on canvas at the NYU digital lab and then I work over them with paint and collage.

Why are artists so worried about going back to things? Surely if you go back and you pull something from what you were once doing, it’s definitely going to be something different from what you did forty years ago.

You know, I was always involved in the moment and moving forward but I do know that when artists get to a certain age, they tend to come full circle and tie things together. I see it all the time.
Joyce worked with Barry Holden to create this colorful bathroom out of mixed tiles left over from many different public art projects.
What do you feel you’re pulling together?

I feel like I’m pulling together my whole life in art. It sounds corny but …

So the “pattern” part of the Pattern and Decoration movement title isn’t usually used pejoratively, but the “decoration” part most certainly is – is that because it is automatically thought of intellectually empty and “feminine”?

Well we used it deliberately because it was pejorative in the art world, especially when I was in art school in the 70s. It was about the worst thing you could say about a painting. I came to this through feminism. I sat with a friend of mine, Gila Hirsch, and we started looking at gender-loaded language when writing about art. One of the words that was negative was “decorative” and that I realized it was associated with the decorative arts and women and people of other cultures. In Western art history,  it was low on the hierarchy. So we just decided that we were going to embrace it and make the most decorative work we could possibly make.

No one thinks about anymore but a lot of it has been absorbed into contemporary art – and none of them have even heard of Pattern and Decoration!
A view of the loft from the studio.
A piece by Joyce, 'Homage to Robert Adam' hangs above the entrance to her studio. It is made of cast paper and colored etchings published by Crown Point Press.
Entering Joyce's studio.
On the left, a nine-panel, 30-ft long painting 'If I Were a Botanist: the Journey' is in Joyce's current show at DC Moore gallery in Chelsea. The show, "Maps & Patterns," closes April 25th. Concurrently, Kozloff has a second New York exhibition, "Social Studies," at French Institute Alliance Francaise.
It’s interesting that it was thought of as “feminine” or frivolous when all of this kind of work involves very rigorous mathematical and geometrical organization of form, especially the Islamic patterns and decorations.

Yes. That’s why I’m glad I have the computer. Drawing yourself can kill you.

Were you resistant to the idea of working with computers?

I’m always resistant to everything in the beginning. And then I become an addict.

So we want to talk to you about women and art. Tell us how you think things have changed.

How has it changed? Well … there are people who have been collecting statistics and they’re not so great.
'If I Were a Botanist: the Pale,' 2014.
Looking toward the entrance to the studio.
Joyce's office area is filled with works of art by friends, including Michele Zackheim and Debra Werblud.
Joyce's desk area.
Photos of family and friends are arranged in front of a photograph by George Woodman (left) and painting by Michelle Stuart (right).
More works by friends. The needlepoint in the lower left corner is by Joyce's mother, Adele Blumberg, who passed away in December 2014 at the age of 98.
I was shocked when the first time you did that for the LA County Museum and the number of works by women in the collection was less than one percent.

Right. It isn’t as bad as that. But if you look at the major galleries and the big shows, there are still very few women, comparably. If you look at the auction prices, the high prices are going to mostly men.

Can you account for it? Is it the gatekeepers?

I don’t know. A lot of the gatekeepers are women. I don’t know what to say about it. There is now a whole generation of young feminist curators and scholars and that will make a difference in the future.
Flat files for works on paper.
Work tables.
On the rear wall are two works in process. On the right is 'If I Were an Astronomer: Tasman,' 2014.
Two smaller works in progress: 'If I Were an Astronomer: Paris and Brooklyn'.
More works by friends.
The red lithograph at the top is by Judith Solodkin; the large pink painting on paper is by Melissa Meyer.
Paint and more paint.
Cut-out paper for collage.
One of the things I read was that one reason you stopped doing public art was because you were being asked to make things that were “safe”. Were you given a freer hand in the 1970s than later on?

That’s true. Public art was sort of invented in the 70s. A lot of women moved into that field because it was wide open and it was exciting. And there weren’t any rules. Then the rules came into play afterward. There started to be those controversies.

Did you do anything that was considered controversial?

I had some … er … experiences toward the end of the time when I was doing public art when I was steered away from certain kinds of content. I did a piece in Los Angeles about the movies and they got very upset because they considered the images too violent. Basically they were gun molls. I had a row of women with guns …  1940s, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, black-and-white, smaller than life … but they didn’t want to put it up in the subway. We came to a compromise and it was long time ago. I didn’t like that experience.
'The Tempest,' 2015, a 10-foot painting that combines collage and assemblage.
More shots and details of 'The Tempest' with globes attached.
'If I Were a Botanist: Gaza,' 2015.
A detail of 'If I Were a Botanist: the Journey'.
Now that you’ve finished all this work for your show, what are you going to do?

I’m very tired. I have been working really long hours and I’m stressed. I’m looking forward to taking a break.

What are you going to do?

Well I have this small project. A friend of mine has asked me to make masks for an opera he’s staging on Labor Day weekend.

So you just said that you’re going to take a break by doing more work.

[Laughs]. Well maybe I’ll take a break for a couple of weeks …