Katie Joy’s studio is full of faces. Through photographs, sketches and paintings, she has surrounded herself with a myriad of expressions and features – fascinating images of important figures in her life, many of them painted by Katie. As an artist, Katie has always been attracted to the magnetic power of faces. Through studying and painting portraits, she is exploring a narrative that reaches far deeper than simply a physical likeness.
“Who are we really? What are our dreams, thoughts, fears, loves? How do we cloak or reveal ourselves through our faces? Faces are histories and prophecies. When I paint faces I'm not just trying to copy what someone looks like, I'm trying to figure out what it means to be human.”
This probing exploration can be witnessed in the deeply beautiful portraits she paints of others. A portrait Katie painted of her brother was in a show at a gallery in Peabody. It is an enigmatic but simple image of his profile with an orange cloth wrapped around his shoulders, dark hair pulled into three small ponytails in a line on his head. He occupies about half of the horizontal canvas while the other half is filled by the atmospheric light blue background, which is pierced by several shocking drips of red. Visitors to the gallery were drawn to this painting right away. I think in part it was because of the beautiful craftsmanship of Katie’s painting, but it also to do with the image itself. It was so intimate and yet so frustratingly mysterious- Katie had included enough to give the viewer an introduction to this character, but had obscured and hidden these details in such a way that the viewer was left wanting to know more, straining to find clues about this arresting subject.
When explaining how she chose different faces to paint for her senior thesis, Katie explained that they were friends who had been present throughout her college career- friends she knew and loved too well not to describe through painting. While painting each person, Katie Joy immerses herself in his or her world. She has extensive interviews with her subjects to understand more about what inspires that person. The music that the subject loves is the background noise to every studio session. These details manifest themselves in the features of each figure through the subtle details of expression and gesture. In her thesis show, Katie plans to include intricate drawings of objects and figures inspired by each interview to aid the viewer in truly seeing the face in the portrait. Color is an important part of Katie Joy’s painting process. As she showed me around her studio, she pointed to one particular painting. “I don’t know how,” she said, “but this turned out to be very red.” Later she worked on the very skeletal beginnings of a portrait by drawing in the contour lines of the face with a forest green. Colors, like the intimate details of a person’s life, show up in surprising and often vibrant ways in the painting- they act as another way of capturing the personality and emotion of a subject in the moment they are being studied. In Katie’s portrait of her brother, for example, the balance between the vibrant orange and red with the soft blue denotes both energy and calm in the subject, humor and depth. That is what makes Katie’s portraits so beautifully complex and intimate: layered within every tone and line of each feature is an insight into the character behind the face. Katie Joy handles all of her subjects with this same attention and care, inviting her viewers to look more closely and notice how beautiful and interesting the life behind an individual’s face can be.