PORTRAITS: JO HAY'S "DODGER" - BEST IN SHOW
Interview with Jo Hay February, 2016
Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you're from, how you got to where you are, how you started painting, etc.
I grew up an only child in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the North of England. Early on I drew and painted but my introduction to western art history came through an oversized, glossy publication that my mother subscribed too. I would look as it, aware of some kind of kinship with the figurative painters Degas, Velazquez and Manet. I was fascinated by their ability to render life. This sparked my desire for an academic education in painting. Unable to find this in England at that time, I studied graphic design and was instead excited to become a fashion magazine designer, first in London then New York in the 1990s. Having daily contact with the world’s best fashion photography allowed me to learn the language of gesture and the impact of composition free from the practice of painting and drawing technique which I did at night at the Art Students League of New York. I soon realized I wanted to dedicate myself to painting full-time so in the mid 90’s I found myself a small studio and left the magazine world. In 2005 I moved to Provincetown MA, the oldest art community in the country but returned to New York in 2010 to attend the New York Academy of Art masters program where I was awarded their Portrait Scholarship. I currently live and work in Provincetown.
You have been a full-time artist for over 20 years and your work seems to be based on what you describe essentially as a lifetime of captivation with gender duality. Was there a particular spark that led your artwork down that path or was it a more organic progression?
My captivation with gender duality was definitely founded in my childhood. Alongside my developing interest in art was my obsession with the Glam Rock era, a period of time in the UK in the 1970’s when it was absolutely the norm for boys to parade themselves around town looking like girls and vice versa. We reveled in the gender chaos of bands like ‘The Sweet’ while David Bowie called upon us all to be ‘Heroes’. It was a heady time for a young girl who related to the stereotypical role laid out for boys. We could be who ever we wanted to be and that felt magnificent! I recognize that same energy now in any figure who appears entirely comfortable shifting back and forth between genders.
We have to admit it was kind of fun to pick out the different gender stereotypes in each of the pieces and the way they play with and against one another within the portrait, is that the ultimate goal of your work? If not, what would you say it is?
I am delighted that you see the differences and yes it is vital that the viewer does see them play against each other. But I would say my ultimate goal is to reflect my own feelings of overwhelmed excitement and confusion when being seduced by true gender duality. I vigilantly seek to make exciting brushwork, with clean color mixes on a large-scale formal in an attempt to hypnotize the viewer into a similar state of seduction.
Want to talk about what's next in your work?
Going forward I will be continuing with my large-scale portrait series entitled ‘Benders’. I entered ‘Dodger’ a self-portrait, into the BP Portrait award at the National Portrait gallery in London last year and was delighted to get into the semi-final round. This year I am submitting ‘Shania’. I am also very excited that I have two major gallery events this year. They are both solo shows of large portraits of rabbits. I generally paint rabbits between the ‘Benders’ portraits. Rabbit portraits make an excellent arena for paint mark experimentation. And for a devotee of learning through repetition, they are the perfect subjects.