Briefly describe the work you do.
My work takes the form of mixed media assemblage boxes, collage, intaglio prints, wall installations and drawings…and any combination of the above. The work is quiet, contemplative and simultaneously playful and serious. Like our minds, which hold and filter memories, imaginings, ideas, epiphanies and day-to-day experience, my work brings together my life experiences and thoughts with quirky associations in response to found objects and a quiet, somewhat playful studio creation process. I think that in that play, some very serious things happen.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
My mother is a painter and my father was an architect. They homesteaded in a one room log cabin outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. I was born in Alaska but we moved to Wisconsin when I was a kid. I moved back there as a young adult for a year. So, the Alaskan part of my identity and my family history (Dad had been born and raised in Fairbanks with its extremes in dark/light and temperatures) was a force within me, with lots of family lore told through growing up. When I lived there as a young adult, I understood better how powerful that identity aspect was to me. Alaskans sort of behave as though they are a country unto themselves, with challenges and benefits that are very different from the lower 48. I was also raised Christian Scientist and though I was somewhat skeptical of organized religion, being saturated with it growing up definitely helped to shape me. Also realizing that I didn’t fit the heterosexual female norm has helped to shape who I am as a person and as an artist.
Though I always liked making things, I started as an Art History major—that exposure has certainly influenced me. I also had thought about going into architecture but realized that I wasn’t so interested in actually building full scale structures, but was more interested in the marks and symbols used and the imagined spaces of small-scale models. In undergrad and beyond I used the architecture of the city as my muse…I started out drawing and painting cityscapes where the buildings took on a life of their own. The architectural influences are still present in my work today, though in a more abstract way.
I also have always found comfort in poetry and the written word. That has played a role in my work, either literally in the form of printed text or figuratively, in the act of creating poetic objects or responding directly to the work of poets and writers.
Travel has been important to me. And whenever I travel, I look at lots of art and architecture. Those visual experiences find their way into my work.
Collage has helped me to explore juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated things that when placed together created new meaning in the space between them. There were parallels in that process to life, to improvisation and the happy accidents or orchestrated moments of our human experience…to realize that there are relationships between all things and that there is something to be learned or said in that space between.
For years I didn’t have a television and even now if I watch something it is selectively, not commercial television. I am very sensitive to and critical of/aware of how mass media dumbs down complex issues, manipulates the viewer, instills fear and contributes to many of the problems that we have in our culture. I seek out news from trusted alternative sources and if I watch a show that was made for television it will be on my own terms without commercials and with a critical eye. That defiance or reigning in of a powerful and heavily orchestrated media force has certainly helped to shape my worldview as well as the rhythm of my life and focus as an artist and teacher.
Though I am quite politically and socially active my studio work often provides a balance to those other aspects of my life. When my life is busiest or the world is going most haywire, my work tends to get more quiet and contemplative in response.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I sometimes work collaboratively and sometimes in solitude. I spend a great deal of time in my daily life around people, so the time spent alone in the studio is a necessary reprieve. Being in the studio often happens between other things, meetings with students or colleagues, before or after class. And since my studio building is in a space where colleagues and students are also working, there is still a sense of community there, an awareness of others…certainly not the loft rat image of the lone studio artist from decades past.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never thought, when I first started making art, that I would end up teaching in a college program, especially the very same one where I first started to imagine myself as an artist. I never thought that I would be working with so many amazing emerging artists both in school and beyond school. I never thought that I would enjoy the administrative side of creating opportunities for artists with writing artist statements, bios and professional CV materials, proposals, etc, coaching them and mentoring them.
I also never thought about the artist as curator and did not anticipate how much I would enjoy that wearing that hat, seeing relationships between artist’s works and bringing their works together to create a dialogue, helping other artists who have great potential get opportunities. I like helping those who were previously non-art viewers see the potential for enriching their lives by experiencing and understanding art.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I work whenever I can. But it tends to happen in fits and starts. While I have Fridays and sometimes Saturdays set aside for studio work, I am looking at art, attending exhibitions, artist’s talks and reading or watching videos about artists throughout the week. In the studio I like to get in early in the day if possible to get started when the light is bright and my mind is fresh and relaxed. But I will take studio time wherever/whenever I can get it.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My work has changed somewhat in the last five years in that it has become less object (box or print) oriented and more installation, creating a gathering of objects, drawing and tailoring the piece to fit the exhibition space and the works around it. I still conceive of them and create them primarily as individual elements and bring them together in response to the exhibition or the space.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I already mentioned that my mother is a painter and my father was an architect. Both of them influenced me early on and since my dad’s death, I think that there are elements of architecture in much of what I do.
Many artists and teachers have influenced me either directly or indirectly. But in addition, numerous poets and writers have had all manner of impact on me. Over the years, poetry has offered me solace, comfort, insight and has led to some of the imagery that I have used. Most recently, I have been returning to the work of Mary Oliver.
Other things that I have read or listened to have helped me to frame my work and my process within a larger cultural framework. Some of my work came out of working through loss and understanding the beauty and complexity of relationships that make us feel loss deeply. Some artist friends shared his work with me and after reading more Derrida’s ideas about that helped me to think about that aspect of the work more deeply and in a way that is connected not just to my life but to the broader human experience.
I sometimes feel as though I am not fully aware in the moment where the work is coming from as I am making it, but sometimes it is inspired by something that I have heard on the radio about our expanding universe, the disappearing Y chromosome, a sense of wonder about an experience, a line from an Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman poem. All of these things can come together in my work that is an extension of my life…and often a quiet balance to its frenetic pace.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Hmmm, that is a tough one. I have realized that I love landscape design and gardening. It feeds me in similar ways to my studio work. I have become mildly obsessed with working the earth and collaborating with the natural world in recent years and have helped others with their garden design ideas. I enjoy most those gardens that are both beautiful and functional…growing edible or medicinal, beautiful plants and flowers that thrive in this climate and that together create an amazing visual, textural, olfactory experience that changes throughout the day and the seasons. Gardening is full of surprises, challenges, opportunities and change.
About Josie Osborne
Josie Osborne is an artist and Director of the First Year Program in Art and Design at UW-Milwaukee, Peck School of the Arts where she also teaches. She recently left the City of Milwaukee Arts Board where she had served for 12 years and has received Mary Nohl Suitcase Fund support for two travelling exhibitions of her work. She has also curated and co-curated numerous exhibitions including Quiet at Walkers Point Center for the Arts, Miller and Shellabarger: Hiding in the Light at Inova Gallery and many others. Osborne received her Master of Fine Arts in Graphics (printmaking) from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and her BFA in Painting and Drawing from UW-Milwaukee.
Select exhibitions include: Fabulous Women Show and Top Drawer Prints (at Peltz Gallery in Milwaukee), In the Balance, (Walkers Point Center for the Arts), Thread (invitational at UNC-Charlotte); 5IVE (traveling exhibition: Walkers Point Center for the Arts, Milwaukee and Flagler College Carrera Gallery, Florida); Art Chicago (Hotcakes Gallery); Art Basel Miami (Hotcakes Gallery); Things Avian and Architectural (solo exhibition at Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts); Proscenium (solo exhibition at Wisconsin Academy of Science, Letters and the Arts), Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors Biennial, A Decade of Wisconsin Art (invitational, James Wattrous Gallery, Madison Overture Center), Diabolique (curated by Fred Stonehouse); UWM and MIAD Faculty Exhibitions. Osborne’s work has also been reproduced in literary journals and professional magazines, including The Cream City Review and the Madison Review.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.