Joy Redstone is taking a fragmented world and putting the pieces back together.
Joy Redstone sees beauty in the discarded. In the objects that we often overlook and dismiss as broken and unsalvageable, the artist sees hope, value, and an opportunity to put the pieces back together into a coherent whole.
Joy has dedicated her life to being a champion of often unheard voices. As a social worker, counselor, and educator, she guides others in their healing processes. In her art, Joy expresses her story, not through words, but by building something beautiful out of what might have been considered worthless. Each exquisite assemblage tells its own unique story. Comprised of found objects with their own rich histories such as stones, shells, feathers, trash, bones, and skulls, they take on a new life as an artwork. The process of assembling each piece is unpredictable, sometimes painful, and always cathartic. Joy generously shares her vulnerability, courage, and resilience with everyone who experiences her art, urging the necessity to just say “yes” to art and life.
Joy Redstone shared her story in an interview.
Six years ago, you experienced a loss that changed your life. Were you making art before that time? If so, how has your experience changed your art-making process?
Before my husband's suicide, I had made one piece of art, Springtime on Sugarloaf. It was about the experience of feeling trapped up in the mountains with his terrible physical illness and his dark depression. It was about walking towards freedom. I do not know exactly why his death spurred me into this intense art-making process. the best words I have to describe it are that there was a door inside of me that felt like a locked prison door. After his death, when my entire world was fragmented and I was in a dark but freeing place, I walked up to that door that I thought was locked, and it swung open at the lightest touch.
How has the process of building assemblages and repurposing discarded objects helped your healing process?
Building assemblages seems to make fragmentation into a coherent whole. I think that the part about the broken pieces is not only about the fragmentation I experienced at the time of his death, but the fragmentation I experienced as a child. Both my parents suffered from experiences with mental illness and I experienced neglect, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as abandonment. I always sought meaning and ways to explain experiences that at the time were overwhelming in profound ways. When I work with what is discarded but is still physically beautiful, it feels soothing to my heart and soul. I spent most of my social work career working with prisoners and ex-prisoners with mental illness, substance abusers, and homeless people. I have always felt like they were my brothers and sisters and I have seen such beauty and strength of spirit in those that have been considered discarded by society. After all, what reason is there that I would be successful? Virtually none.... so in my success, I feel like I want to speak for everything and everyone that is viewed as worthless.
Also, I do some specific practices when I make artworks that are healing. I titrate between the dark parts or pieces and work simultaneously on ones that to me are about love, joyfulness, healing, and beauty. I sing and sometimes I dance. When I make art, often words or phrases come into the process that are healing -- like "just say yes" which to me means to say yes to life and beauty and growth. I work with perfectionism as I struggle to find the ways that the objects want to fit together in a durable way, and often the objects have a mind of their own that I must surrender to. When I do, what comes of it is often more beautiful than what I saw in my mind's eye.
Each piece has a unique story and meaning for you. What do you hope that people will gain from experiencing your work?
Someone told me along the way that the more of myself that I put into my art, the more I will speak to people. I want to speak my story. I can't put it very easily into words and when I do, I often overwhelm people without meaning to. Our society isn't very comfortable with suffering. My story has a lot of suffering, and there are things about my adult life too which are very hard. I experienced domestic violence in my marriage and was very poor when I left him as well. I have met my life with great resilience and determination and when I make beautiful things I can tell my story in ways that can be engaged with.
You are also a social work educator and social worker. What do you find to be the greatest challenges and rewards of being a guide to others who are navigating the healing process?
The greatest reward is being present at someone's moment of healing and transformation. The privilege of hearing a story and watching a person meet themselves with love and forgiveness is a miracle that awes me and makes me glad to be alive. Teaching others to be a therapist and knowing that the concentric circles of love and healing are what I am leaving as my professional legacy gives me meaning and solace. It is sometimes a challenge to stay present with the darkness of what human beings do to each other and how some of us have hard, hard lives. However, I find that if I concentrate on being a conduit rather than a receptacle of the story, it is healing as well. The stories find their way to my art as well... every life I have had the opportunity to witness is a testament to personal courage and reaching for love.
What kind of energy, history, or inner life does an object hold?
I am not sure, as I have only just recently become aware of how the pieces will reveal how they want to be pressed into place when I hold them in my hands in a certain way, or how if I hold them against the art piece they will tell me how they want to be glued and what will hold them in place most enduringly.....
Does spirituality inform your art-making process? If so, how?
Art is where I experience my deepest sense of gratitude and wonder, so I would say yes, spirituality infuses it. I feel gifted to have experienced liminal places in my life, such as the place I experienced after Michael's suicide. I felt so adrift that all I could do for a couple of months was to cry and walk. When I walked in the park next to my house, it was during the middle of the day, a time that I had never before walked there due to working... Every day I saw hundreds of dragonflies. They seemed to speak to me of lifting my eyes up, putting my feet in front of one another, and saying thank you for the enduring natural beauty that gave and gives itself unstintingly.