Joyce McCarten makes layered abstract paintings that are metaphors for the unpredictable nature of life. She uses a personal language of form, gesture and color in oil paint to allow the unpredictable to emerge.
McCarten is an avid traveler, especially to the hidden places in third world countries. She visits those places that only health workers and missionaries dare to enter. Her visit to the west African country of Niger, 15 years ago, had great impact on her life and art and she has chosen to make this the inspiration for her recent work.
She went to Niger to visit and take supplies to a missionary family living in the bush town of Tahoua. They introduced her to the Woddabe-Fulani people, one of the last nomadic people groups in the world. The bush desert and the nearby towns and markets appeared to be from an ancient world. The desert was green after a brief season of rain, yet there were no bushes in the bush. There was a donkey parking lot, huge wooden spools for bed frames and goats that were prized possessions. The people were beautiful; the men shaved their foreheads to enhance their beauty and the women piled their hair low on their foreheads. The colors of the robes brightened the drab, drough-ridden landscape.
Many of the places McCarten visited are no long accessible to the Western world. Political ramifications have come to the bush desert of Niger. Missionary friends have moved to a larger city in a district where there is less danger. Many of the Woddabe people have moved to the cities because the desert could no longer support their goat herds. Change comes, even for desert nomads.
The way we embrace change is an important subject for McCarten. Whether we rail against it or welcome it, change comes. Though we try, we cannot predict all the changes that will come in our personal or corporate lives. In her painting process, McCarten allows the colors and shapes to change to improve their relationships with one another. During the painting process, the unpredictable often shows up and she is surprised and challenged. Allowing changes to her paintings has given McCarten an idea about how to welcome unpredictable changes throughout her own life.
Artist Statement for Bones paintings - 2015
The elegant shape of the human pelvis and femur has been a constant source of influence for me since my earliest days of art making. The solid forms, so rhythmically sculpted, and the perfectly designed structures have given me vital information for many of the landscape, still life, and abstract paintings of the last 25 years.
This knowledge all came together in the summer of 2014. As I glared at my x-rays showing a deteriorating hip replacement and a disintegrating Greater Trochanter, I saw past the dysfunctions to the beauty of the bones. My bones.
As I searched for medical treatments, I also searched for more and more ways to look at the bones. My studio was cluttered with plaster casts of the pelvis and femur and antique drawings made from early explorations of medical corpses. I studied them sideways, upside down and inside out.
Each drawing and painting began to take on a life of its own. Some are idealized views of how I wish my joint had held together. Others represent my desire to see the bones as abstract forms. Making this work reminded me that God’s handiwork is beautiful, no matter its condition. Some of us have obvious disabilities, and some of us do not. In some way, however, we all suffer, we are all vulnerable and we are all weak. That is being human and that is what I see in these bones.