Joyce Garner

Garner portrait

Joyce Garner documents her rich inner world (a world of acrobats, wanderers, animals, magic, city and forest) in large, vividly-pigmented surrealist paintings. Garner has had fourteen solo exhibitions of her work since 1991.

She co-initiated and developed three extensive collaborative  projects (“Ladies’ Lunch”, “The Marriage Project”, and “Yes We Both Paint—a Mother-Daughter Collaboration”) and traveled to Northern Ireland to participate in a project (“Links That Connect Us”) in which she worked collaboratively with Belfast painter Ray Duncan.

More recently she founded an open studio with textile artist Denise Furnish in the center of Louisville KY’s gallery district. Through this effort, visitors have access to her creative process.

Garner is a self-taught artist. The painterliness and scope of her work reflects deep study of various forerunners—Cassatt, Matisse, Picasso, Chagall. More contemporary influences are Grace Hartigan, Paula Rego, Juan Muñoz, and Roy DeForest. Her ambitions for her work are shaped by how she uses art in her personal life; she prefers art which rewards extended meditative contemplation. “I love to sit in front of a piece in the mornings with a cup of hot tea in my hands, and let my mind go. I want art that gives me a place to go.” Her paintings move and refresh the viewer’s eye with evocative details, veiled layers of paint, and patterns that undulate.

A native Kentuckian, Garner's earliest influences were American pop culture (television, comics, and coloring books), fairy tales, children’s novels such as Alice in Wonderland, Appalachian craft traditions and the lamp-lit realities of rural living. Joyce describes her work as “a world of my own making. I can enter in and really spend time there. And when I'm in the painting, it feels like magic.”

Garner began painting after the birth of her first child, Angie Reed.  "I was 21. I always liked to draw but our childhood home had zero art materials. Tackling oil paint, I quickly realized I needed help. Having graduated from the University of Kentucky Dec. '68 (Textiles and Design), in May I visited the art department to enroll for the summer. The department secretary refused to give me an application. 'We don't take housewives. Why don't you try continuing adult education,'" she recalls.

"My husband, Gordon, was accepted into the U S Indian Health Service and, by August, the three of us lived in Scottsdale, Arizona. Gordon worked long days on three reservations putting in water and sewer lines. Angie Reed and I used the library a lot.  I took out art books and started painting. I would paint snapshots or pictures from magazines. The Scottsdale library was a wonderful resource; at times, there were art exhibits. I made it to a few galleries. I kept painting. We were there for three years. I learned to paint from library books," Garner says.

"Several more moves were in store for us, and three more children.  I painted family portraits a lot because of the emotional content their faces held for me and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw the Impressionists, Mary Cassatt was at the top of my list. This brought an important insight to me: the actual paintings are different from reproductions in books," she says.

"As I kept painting, I wanted away from using photos for several reasons: color, and content. So I painted apples. Lots of apples, fruit. Still  kept using libraries, found the Alice Neel book, WOW. I was fearful of giving up realism but the death of my Mother left me needing to paint things that I had no snapshot for," she explains.

It is the devotion to creation that drives most artists and Joyce Garner is a prime example. From a childhood in Covington,KY, where there were minimal art supplies for a child and no resources, she managed to pursue her calling by sheer force of will and a great deal of self-education.

Garner's daughter Angie Reed Garner is now an artist in her own right. Mother and daughter have collaborated on works, just as together they visited the library in Scottsdale many years before.