By Alisa Samadani, Staff Writer Originally published in Issue 4, Volume 32 of The University Register on Friday, October 25, 2019
Last week UMM was graced with a visit from Jocelyn Y. Howard, an artist with a beautiful story to tell. Howard gave a talk on Tuesday, October 15, from 6 to 7 p.m. in HFA 2. Growing up in a strict, Catholic environment, Howard was always raised to fear provocative imagery, in spite of her dream to become an artist.
When she attended Bob Jones University, the “buckle of the Bible belt,” as Howard put it, she was immersed in a far more restrictive creative space, where music, movements, and dress code were heavily regulated. Despite this, the university had a large collection of religious artwork, with the main source of entertainment for students being live theatre, as productions were done in great detail.
With so much shame around the human body in her hometown, as well as her university, Howard sought out an art form that could “catch the moment,” similarly to what she had done with photography when she was younger. Howard discovered the artist, Harry Clarke, whose family created stained glass for churches. Harry later became an illustrator, because, while he had enjoyed creating stained glass, it had always made him feel “confined”; illustrations were the only way he could feel free as an artist. This story inspired Howard to continue creating, even as she abandoned her original dream of illustrating.
After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Bob Jones University, Howard moved to North Carolina for two years and focused on both working and studying pottery at the Penland School of Crafts. She was later accepted into the University of Florida’s postbaccalaureate program, and, as it was her first time in a state school, she had quite a unique experience. Howard started meeting people from different cultures and worldviews, and her horizons continued to be broadened when she attended Edinboro University, where she was properly educated about feminism, evolution from a scientific standpoint, human rights, and, as fate would have it, her own self. Howard proudly came out while in graduate school, and at this point in her life, felt complete and ready to create illustrations. She was then accepted for an artist residency in Red Lodge, Montana, where she created pieces that symbolized all of her childhood, young adulthood, and inner self. While she was making these pieces, however, something felt off and incomplete in her work.
“I need to be true to myself in more ways than one.” Following in the footsteps of pop surrealists like Kat Wiley, Mark Ryden, Victor Castillo, and Grayson Perry, Howard strived to create “good art,” where sophistication -- not the noise of the medium or the lavish trimmings of a piece -- became the focus. Looking back on her days at Bob Jones University, some of the so-called “good theatre” productions were not expensive or well-produced. It was not the material form that created applause, it was the actor’s level of performance. Recently, Howard has created a collection of ceramics inspired by “Henry IV, Part I”. My personal favorite was “Strangled Sun.” Howard remarked on how people often feel foolish for making bad choices - ”we all have different chains that wear us down.” One of her most recent pieces, “And After It Again,” really caught my eye. Howard said that with this piece she “wanted to make a piece about what happens when a cycle of abuse continues.”
Howard is currently working on a collection of works that are centered around“Twelfth Night”, a genderbending play by William Shakespeare. She plans on taking each character that she identifies with from the play and creating a cast.
After her talk, there was a brief Q&A session. When asked about using clay, and the limitations that may come with it, Howard responded: “I think it limits me in good ways because I could put real chains in there [the pieces] but it would break the spell. It enables me to create a visual appeal.”
When asked about funding, she chuckled for a moment, then simply said: “You have to have the dogged determination, and if you are [sic], then you will find ways to work. To me, the struggle is worth it.” When asked about the possible objectification of her pieces, particularly the nude pieces, Howard remarked that she couldn’t care less. “I feel like when you have a partially nude body, it becomes naked. If I’m going to have a naked body, it’s going to be nude to stay in that classical form. If someone chooses to objectify my work, that’s on them.”
Howard also demonstrated her process in creating her figurative work during Andrew Leo Stansbury’s Ceramics classes, which were on Tuesday and Thursday, from 9-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m. These classes were open for anyone to attend. Geordi Jones, a student in the class, looked back on their week with the artist.
“Jocelyn talked a lot about her current project itself, which is the sculpting of characters from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She also talked at length about the gender flipping of Cesario as a confident female figure, and Viola as a vulnerable male figure. During the in-class workshops, she worked on the sculptures for Maria and Antonio. She also gave a breakdown of how to start sculpting the human face, what sort of proportions to consider, and how she draws her diagrams before she starts sculpting.”
Before Howard left campus, I asked her what advice she would give to aspiring artists of all levels, dealing with any sorts of roadblocks in life. Her response was one sentence: “I don’t believe in talent, I believe in hard work and failure.”
Photo on top courtesy of Pinterest