A year before Billy James Joyce began two years of study for his MFA at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he and his partner moved to an old farmhouse in rural Southwest Wisconsin. Following the lead of other artists who wished to step out of a technologically driven society and form a better relationship with nature and themselves, Billy saw the relocation as a way to trigger a more focused studio practice. Cut off from the familiar tech amenities, he was forced to direct his life in new, and at times, uncomfortable and challenging ways. When he received a letter from a friend living in rural Washington, he vividly remembers something interesting happening when he sat down to reply. It didn’t take long to realize that he was almost incapable corresponding by hand with ink and paper. After several minutes of misspelling words and scratching out and erasing sentence fragments, he eventually gave up, picked up his laptop and wrote the letter using much more familiar hardware. Afterward he copied that letter by hand onto paper, put it in an envelope and sent it to his friend in Washington.
That letter-writing experience and his year living in Wisconsin was impactful for Joyce. He began thinking about technological dependence and the possibility of forming new ways to use digital translation to illustrate personal and inherited memories of figuration and the natural world. That work revealed emerging cultural barriers that prevent us from having authentic experiences with the sublime, the mundane and the sacred. Within this conceptual framework, he has been making paintings that unapologetically set out to capture the transcendental splendor of the American landscape. Using pigment on canvas, color, and mark, he pays tribute to Bonnard and Vuillard while channeling the American painters Milton Avery, Fairfield Porter and Alex Katz. Those artists are important to this young painter; they act as an art historical foundation for this new work and allow him to assertively update a conversation about contemporary cultural anxiety.
The exhibition title, An Interview with a Bear, refers to story told by John Muir about a close encounter he had with a grizzly bear while walking alone in Sierras. During that somewhat terrifying meeting, Muir found himself caught in a staring contest; he called that stare down with the bear, his “interview.” According to Joyce, there is something magical in the way Muir describes the interaction and the psychic connection he formed with this massive and dangerous animal. For Joyce, it serves as an appropriate metaphor for the relationship between the power of nature and the vulnerability of humanity. It’s no coincidence that the work in An Interview with a Bear is conceived and produced by an artist deeply impacted by his surroundings. Like his paintings, his ideal surroundings are abundant with natural forms, color, light and fresh air.
(b. 1983) Billy James Joyce is a painter based in Chicago. He received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Recent exhibitions include Presence Interrupted at Julius Caesar in Chicago and That’s Us at Land and Sea In Oakland. From 2012 to 2015 he co-founded and co-curated projects at Forever and Always, an experimental artist run space in Pilsen.