Briefly describe the work you do.
The escapist allure of immersive environments drives my work, orienting the viewer in a place of comfort and curiosity. The vibrant colors, reductive imagery, and illustrated movements within the “Flow Chart” series of installations are deceptively simple, derivative of early video games, pinball machines, mass transit maps, and schematic diagrams. Within this framework, one soon begins to uncover the world’s underpinnings: a modular, rules-based system of sculptural parameters, compositional logic, and spatial relationships. Innumerable variations in scale and narrative can be constructed from this limited “kit” of elements. The reductive simplicity of these environments is at once comforting and cloying, sincere and cynical.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
Since my brother and sister are quite a bit older than I am, I grew up essentially as an only child. Avoiding boredom through solitary play pushed me to be inventive, resourceful, and more than a little bit strange. I cannot overstate the influence of Legos, blanket forts, backyard mud pits, and video games on my work as an artist!
I’m also a bit of a chronic collector, a trait my brother and I determined that we both inherited via our father. As a kid it was action figures, rocks and minerals, and baseball cards, while adulthood has brought an amassing of bicycles, graphic tees, and plants. The process of making my artwork builds upon and satisfies this compulsion to accumulate and categorize things.
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 find that my personal studio and the installation site are of equal importance in my studio practice. The personal studio represents a workshop for creating elements to be used in the larger installations, while the gallery is the creative laboratory where all of these variables come together to form a whole that is unique to the eccentricities of the space. Naturally, these two halves of the creative process possess a rhythm and pacing that are completely different from one another. I might spend weeks or months in my studio for a few hours each day constructing the physical objects for a show, while I usually only have a few days to install the work in a space. This second half is a very condensed creative process and a grueling test of mental and physical endurance, often involving an all-nighter on the final day of the install. My work wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful friends and assistants I’ve been fortunate to work with over the years.
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 know for sure that I never really considered the amount of advance planning, self-promotion, and task delegation that come with being a professional artist. None of these come naturally to me, but I’ve been fortunate to become more adept at them over time. Simply possessing talent and enjoying the act of making artwork is rarely enough to get any of that work out into the world. You need to learn to wear many hats.
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?
With a teaching schedule to work around, I’m most productive in the evenings. I’ve always been a bit of a night owl by nature and frequently stay in the art building long after all of my students have gone home. Managing creative energy and protecting free time have been the most important aspects of continuing to make work since starting to teach.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Undeniably, the aesthetic sensibility remains very much the same as the work I made five years ago. The bubble continues to be an endless source of new variations and themes emanating from the same form. I would say there’s an obsessiveness in wanting to explore every possibility within a fairly limited formal framework. Lately I’ve added interactive elements to the environments, engaging viewers in a physical dialogue with the work rather than just a visual one.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I’m indebted to the amazing people I’ve had come into my life. An appreciation for making things runs in my family: a carpenter grandfather, a seamstress grandmother, a jeweler aunt, and a quilter mother. They passed down a connection to the thoughtfulness and labor it takes to create meaningful objects. A ceramics professor in undergraduate school took that inherited desire of mine and gave it a critical focus. One incredible friend has given up countless hours of sleep and sanity to assist me in several shows around the country. Most importantly, my partner has been invaluable at offering her unwavering love and support, keeping my priorities aligned, and encouraging the need to spend time away from my artwork to travel and experience the unfamiliar.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
A career as an artist and teaching others to make art is curiously like building and operating a small business. It would be rewarding to start a profitable business that could foster beneficial activity within a local community. My dream in an alternate life would bring together two of my favorite things: a bicycle/coffee co-operative that hosted group rides, community outreach, and cultural events!
Joe Page is from Northbrook, IL and earned an MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 2008 and a BA from Knox College in 2003. His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. including The Philadelphia Clay Studio, The Archie Bray Foundation, and numerous colleges and universities. After teaching art at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA for the past five years, he is thrilled to be moving back to the Midwest to teach at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as the area head of ceramics this fall.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.