Wavepool – Can you tell me about your history with photography and how it fits into your practice?
Joy Drury Cox – All of my formal training is in photography. I first studied photography as an English major at Emory University with Nancy Marshall. Then I did post-baccalaureate studies at Georgia State University with John McWilliams, Constance Thalken, and Nancy Floyd. Finally, at University of Florida, where I earned my MFA, I was fortunate enough to study with Andrea Robbins and Max Becher. The majority of my undergraduate work in photography was darkroom based. Even in graduate school, I was making c-prints in the darkroom.
Prior to graduate school, my artistic production was almost entirely photographic. I took a few drawing, painting, and sculpture courses, but I really considered myself to be a photographer. While in grad school, I started studying Conceptual Art and Minimalist movements of the 1950’s – 1970’s. It was at this time that I first learned that it was possible for art to be something made with a typewriter on a piece of 8.5 x 11 in. paper. As an English major, I also started to react to and engage with language-based work. The program at University of Florida was very open and supportive, and so I found myself using a camera less, and instead working in other media like drawing and sculpture. This led to several years of work with few or no photographs.
A couple of years after graduate school, I ended up working in the Photography Department at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. There I was surrounded by some of the best equipment any photographer can get his or her hands on – both film and digital. This led to two studio-based series of photographs: Chairs and Still Life.
I would say currently and for a while now, my feelings towards making images with a camera have been mixed. I find photography one of the most difficult mediums within which to work.
Wavepool – Your work takes on many forms, but seems to continually address similar concepts. Do you make a conscious effort to control your work and ideas, or does everything naturally fall in line?
Joy Drury Cox – Earlier in my practice, I tried to think more about controlling my art production along conceptual lines. At a certain point, I got antsy or bored and decided to try to make something completely different. The project ended up being tied to older work despite my original intentions to stray. It took me a while, but I ended up loving this way of working. Despite my best intentions to deviate, I usually come back to one of a few consistent threads in my work. I’m not interested in this being about cohesive authorship, but rather a more natural outpouring or processing of things I’m thinking about. This is one of the gifts that I think making art can give one… a more subtle way to trace thinking and making over time. It’s a different way to understand oneself as a visual artist.
Wavepool – How does literature intersect with ideas of production, labor, and time?
Joy Drury Cox – I find this to be an interesting and difficult question, and one that I had not really considered before. I guess for a lot of people their engagement with literature (post-school) is often done during leisure time. I think there is something interesting in between the time it takes to write a novel and the time it takes to read a novel. I feel this separation in production and reception in my own art. Once the work is on the wall, it becomes like a punch, and all that came before feels silent and gone. I think with most art forms there is so much invisible labor that never gets seen in the final presentation. I like that art-making still teaches me about this process, one that feels completely antithetical to the immediacy and instantaneous nature of so much of contemporary life.
Wavepool – What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given in regard to art-making?
Joy Drury Cox – During graduate school, Andrea Robbins, my thesis advisor, gave me some advice that I still think about and struggle with today. She told me, “You learn in the making. You learn in the doing.” As a grad student and even at times now, I tend to be way too much in my head. I conceive, make, and critique an entire body of work before I’ve even taken a picture or put pencil to paper. At times, I get really entertained by the idea of something and mull it over for way too long. But, once I’ve actually made something, that’s when the real work begins. I keep re-learning this lesson.
Wavepool – I find your works I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good and Twenty-Four Switches to be particularly interesting and attractive. Can you talk a little bit about each piece’s conceptual motivations and the resulting physical forms?
Joy Drury Cox – I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good is a piece that gets its title from my grandfather, James Drury. He was a WWII veteran and an architectural engineer for the John Portman Architectural Firm in Atlanta. He was also an incredibly hard worker. One summer, I remember he tried to teach me how to play pool. He made bank shot after bank shot, and found angles on the pool table that just didn’t seem possible. He followed each incredible shot after the next with, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” This always mystified me, as it was clear that he was very skilled and had practiced a great deal in order to be “good.” This phrase somehow let him modestly run the table, and also let me feel like my loss might not be entirely tied to my lack of skill. I made this collage of a losing raffle ticket at a point when I was feeling frustrated with my art practice. The drawings I was making at the time were very labor intensive, and yet it felt like that labor was invisible to most. The collage was a way to be a little freer and quicker in my making. This piece also became a sort of devil’s advocate for me in that I could allow myself to make something contradictory to my usual process.
Twenty-Four Switches was a piece that came to me as a vision of sorts. A lot of my work tries to pick at this idea of subtlety in everyday experience. For a while, I got obsessed with the moment right before one switches on a light. This moment is so innocuous and filled with certainty. I began to imagine this field of light switches as a field of possibility and also as an interactive “painting” of sorts that the viewer could literally flip off or on. I still dream of making one of these roughly the size of an Agnes Martin painting and among the switches, having one switch wired to a solitary bulb in the space.
Wavepool – What are you currently working on?
Joy Drury Cox – I recently just finished a yearlong project where I drew every comma on every page in Moby-Dick. So aside from recovering from that, I’m working on various new pieces. Lately I’ve been looking more and more at fabric and textile work, especially the quilts of Gee’s Bend. I can’t get enough of them. I also have a collection of photographs I took of people’s feet on the streets of London and Paris this summer that I’m hoping will come into some more realized form. At the end of this month (October), I will be showing a new set of photographic prints from my project Stranger at Workshop at Christian Berst Gallery in New York.
To see more, please visit Joy’s website.