Brooklyn-based painter Haley Josephs makes enigmatic paintings of powerful, archetypal women, often engaged in private activities or rituals that can be both disturbing and absurd. Painted on black canvases, her new images feature rich, saturated color, as if the landscapes are on fire, or infused with the dramatic light of toxic sunsets. On the occasion of her second solo show at Deli Gallery in LIC, “When Men are Fairy Tales in Books Written By Rabbits,” Two Coats of Paint invited Josephs to do an interview with the fellow painter of her choice, and she selected Austin Lee. Lee is also a figurative painter, and his last NYC solo show, “Nothing Personal,” was at Postmasters in Tribeca.
How does time function in your paintings?
Hopefully it stops.
That response surprised me. Often with your work I will think about what it would be like to be inside the head of person in your painting. That always feels really active to me. What is a fairy tale?
It’s not the same thing as a myth, which aim is to teach or reveal a lesson. Fairy tales are grasping at a world that can never be. Maybe a painting is a fairy tale? It’s a reflection of our world, but with a spin on it that makes it forever unattainable. Like a bug preserved in crystal, you can’t get to it without breaking it all apart. What is reality? What is the dream? Similar questions…
Yeah I definitely think a painting can be that. A mix between understanding reality and hinting at the unknown. When I look at your paintings I see the presence of people even if they aren’t depicted directly. I also get a strong feeling of a person’s inner mental world when they are visible. I’m curious about how you represent invisible ways that humans exist. Can you talk about that?
That’s hard to talk about because I think the reason for that occurence is rooted in my own psychology. In my own sensitivity as a feeling human being. I won’t go into analyzing myself, but maybe a way of answering your question is to say that the emotional tone of the painting is so important. I work hard to capture that- maybe that’s what is coming through- even with the absence of a body. I’m speaking through it (the paint!).
Your older paintings felt like past or future tense and your new paintings seem to deal more with present tense- in the act of something. Can you talk about that at all?
I think of my paintings as being post apocalyptic. Maybe they’ve moved to feeling slightly more in present time to you because in a way I think we are in the apocalypse now… so very soon to being post-apocalyptic. They are in the act of something, whether it might be dealing with a mental trauma or overcoming that. As they move through their landscape they are also moving through an emotional landscape internally.
The new paintings have distinct color palette. They feel like night paintings illuminated by fire. A different attitude and mood from some of your previous work. Would you agree with that?
Yes. I’ve recently been painting on all black. I like the effect of that because it makes me work deeper to bring forth the image. I also paint sunsets and sunrises a lot- so monumental. I like to bring that image out from its beginning which is darkness.
Fire is another character, yes. To me it’s symbolic of power and resilience.
What inspires you to paint?
It’s the only tool I have to speak my language. I think through painting I am seeking truth. Painting, when its good, is the best truth revealer. I’m trying to reveal truth, and more specifically, the absolute essential need in our culture of a feminine consciousness. It is feeling-based and intuitive, as opposed to fact based.
What do you want from a painting?
That’s really difficult to say … what would you say?
I can only think of this:
~There lives in me an image
Of all that I should be
Until I have become it
My heart is never free~
Maybe I’m trying to set myself free- to see clearer. So I can move forward in my seeking of truth.
Well, I think you said it pretty well. I don’t think I can follow that. What kind of mental space are you in when working?
When I’m at my best, I’m in a trance.
“Haley Joseph: When Men are Fairy Tales in Books Written By Rabbits,” Deli Gallery, Long Island City, Queens, NY. March 30 through May 6, 2018.
Artist’s Bio (from the gallery website): Haley Josephs was born in 1987 in Seattle, WA. She received her BFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in 2011 and her MFA from Yale University in 2014. Josephs has exhibited locally and internationally. She was included in Painting Forward at Thomas Erben Gallery, NY in 2016 Broke Baroque at Sanctuary Projects, PA in 2014, and Inaugural at 321 Gallery, NY in 2014. Josephs received the Alfred L. MacDougal and Nancy Lauter Scholarship in 2014. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.