“My art reflects my journey,” said Joyce Phillips Young, an African American artist who has created acrylic paintings for many years. “I have come to know that life through its myriad of experiences and challenges teaches us many lessons to guide us along the way,’’ she said.
“It is my desire to create art that becomes a virtual dance of line, color, shape, form and texture, as well as a balance between the observer and the observed,” said Young. “The human figure, primarily the female, is the major paradigm in my art,” she added. Retired since 1997, Young is continuously inspired and challenged by its spirit and form. “I do paint from a female perspective because I know it best,” she said. Women in her paintings come from her experiences with friends, family and relationships.
Creative influences include the Yunnan School of Art, named after the province in southwest China, and African art in addition to artists Wong Shue, Pablo Picasso, Amedo Modigliani and Gustav Klimt. All of these artists have used the human figure, frequently female, in creative, stylized ways through the use of symbolism, geometrical forms and shapes, patterns, nature and movement. Yunnan artists’ emphasis on the linear, colorful and lyrical, have impacted her work. Klimt is known for his highly decorative, symbolist paintings of the female form, combining the decorative arts and the erotic. As Young discovered her style, she focused on the abstract. “Love, life, music and the spiritual aspects of unity and order are the inspirations from which my ideas are generated,” she said.
“I like to feel the flow and dynamics of movement,” Young said. “Like life, you have to look clearly. I’m very impressed with the new artists. The world has changed so much. Art is alive and well.”
In a recent show, Spirit Moves, at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery, Young displayed a positive affirmation of the human spirit through 13 large paintings, three graphite studies and three color pencil studies. Her work interweaves geometric and organic patterns that emulate rhythmic movement. “I watch people carefully as they look at my work,” said Young. “I see how they respond to it.”
Young grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where her father was a Baptist minister and her mother an elementary school teacher. Both introduced Young to art, music and Shakespeare. In the first grade, she recalls a teacher who came in once a week to present art to children. “I loved her coming in. I related to her,” she said. Her early childhood influences played out later in her career.
“My parents saw how much I liked art,” Young said. She participated in Saturday art classes. And, by junior and senior high school, Young worked on the yearbook, played the piano and attended Shakespeare plays at Antioch College. Inspired by the visual aspect of plays, she still sees images from the productions. “We start on a path when we are young,” said Young.
She pursued those interests in college with a bachelor of fine arts in design from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1960. “I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do,” said Young, but her mother was a teacher. After receiving her BFA, she worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in the art department doing lettering and designing charts. But, she wasn’t satisfied. Her mother told her to pursue her dream. Young went back to school and received an MEd in art education in 1963 from Miami.
From 1963 to 1997, Young worked as an art teacher, elementary school administrator and K-12 supervisor of art for Cincinnati Public Schools. She received multiple awards and commissions for her work as a painter, muralist and arts educator.
“If I ever leave the classroom, I would like to be supervisor of art education,” she thought. Donald P. Sowell, director of art education for CPS from 1962 – 1982, became her supervisor and mentor. Sowell initiated the public school’s art collection, later documented by photographer Robert A. Flischel in his book An Expression of the Community: Cincinnati Public Schools Legacy of Art and Architecture.
Young’s dream became reality: she was the first female K-12 art education supervisor. In this role, she helped develop the CPS art exhibition and student recognition program. “It is sad to know that art and music have been eliminated in some public schools,” she said.
Since her divorce from artist Gilbert Young and retirement, Young has taken time to reflect, evaluate and nurture her spirit. Her involvement with painting embodies her intention to celebrate life by creating positive images which convey the spirit of love, creative mind and universal intelligence.
“We have a rich arts scene,” said Young citing local galleries, Contemporary Arts Center, private collections, Pendleton Art Center and Kennedy Heights Arts Center. She finds the Weston Gallery a strong place for artists.
A nucleus of African American artists in the Greater Cincinnati area has always existed, according to Young. She thinks she opened some doors into galleries where African Americans may not have exhibited. “A choir sings fuller and richer when there are many voices,” Young said. One African American artist she follows is Cedric Michael Cox, a DAAP graduate who has exhibited in many galleries including the Contemporary Arts Center. “He is supportive of other artists and has a charismatic, giving spirit,” said Young.
Young noted the Taft Museum of Art supports the Robert S. Duncanson Society, originated in 1986, which recognizes the achievements of contemporary African American artists through the Artist-in-Residence program. In addition, the Donald P. Sowell Committee, sponsored by the Cincinnati Art Museum, promotes enhanced relationships between the museum and the African American community. “We have made progress with diversity in the arts,” said Young.
She advises young artists to network and create their own work. “Set some goals and objectives,” she said. “Find your path, and the rest will come.” She even recommends a business degree for aspiring artists. “Keep your dreams, make them your reality. Be persistent,” Young said.
“I use the language of art to communicate what I think, how I feel and how I respond to my journey,” said Young.