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Joy Brown Ceramic Mural

From the film Joy Brown by Montes-Bradley
Joy’s Ceramic Tile from the mural “One World”

NOTES ON A SINGLE PANEL | It might sound pretentious on my part to presume to know Joy Brown’s perspective and how the world might look from her point of view. On the other hand, it might be perfectly fine to assume that the world we see in her sculptures is what she sees. While browsing through many hours of conversations filmed with Joy over the last two years, I revisited one in particular in which she recalls withdrawing into silence during her early years. This silence, according to Joy, was the result of feeling of s paratio as an American child immersed in Japan’s culture, a world apart, and yet her own. In fact, the only culture she knew outside of her American self, represented in everyday life by a loving mother, father, and siblings. The bubble later grew to include a larger community of classmates and friends from all parts of the world. By then she was living in Osaka. But silence persisted, and she believes that her visual language was forged to communicate, and it certainly does, in beatiful terms.

I find this relationship with her context fascinating. Joy's father had founded a hospital and was determined to carry on his service to the community as a Presbyterian missionary, just as his parents had carried on theirs in China. In that conjunction of Presbyterian and missionary, it seems the latter often prevailed over the religious. The Browns were basically good people, and I have the impression that even if humanity had never come up with the concept of God and religion, they would have carried out their mission all the same. Perhaps that is the perspective from which Brown sees the world, and her ceramic or bronze creatures are here to remind us what the world is when we look at it through the eyes of good people. Although, in the case of Joy, one might forgive the fact that the drive to relate what she sees is profoundly affected by a profound sensibility, cultivated taste, and artistry. I could have easily choosen any other of the many panels that make up “One World,” her most recent monumental mural, but the one I choose suits me just fine tonight. I like it; it tells a minimal chapter in a saga, even as a single photogram works for this viewer. From my perspective, her latest mural is a storyboard for a ceramic recreation of Joy’s universal playground. The panel doesn’t have an individual name. Joy numbers the panels instead of naming them so she can easily work around the story in an orderly fashion. But knowing that I’m dealing with only one plate, I can give it a name and make it my own. And I choose to name this panel: “The World According to Joy.”

A panel called The World According to Joy

I participated in the firing when this panel was born; I was even there when Joy was working on its design, adding the elements that make up this singular family portrait. At the center of it all is a child, the oldest of two siblings, with a dove (I like to call it a dove) sitting on his head. Is there a hat between the sitting bird and the child? Let’s also give the child a name. Let’s call him (or is it her?) Andrea. Andrea is a good name because it would indistinctly apply to boys and girls. We’ll call the dove Py. To Andrea’s right is his father Victor standing on his hands. On the opposite side, I presume, is the mother holding the youngest child, the only one in the family without a hat. Or is it hair? Of course! Babies are born bald, so what I had previously assumed as hats on top of Andrea, Victor, and the mother’s heads is no more than hair. Did the mother have a name? Behind the figures are the mountains. They are happy, content; they have a clear conscience and they are about to be installed as a part of a much larger mural in a children’s museum on a very far away island in the South Pacific, north of Okinawa. The simplicity of the design reminds me of Luis Seoane, the Galician artist. It’s a vague memory that I have of Don Luis, but when it comes to simplified figures, most syntheses arrive at likely outcomes. My father used to say that Simple and Easy don’t get along as if he had been talking about a divine couple from Olympus. Naive, primitive—that’s what I mean by simple when referring to “The World According to Joy,” the panels I wanted to talk about tonight. I guess I just might have done exactly what I said I was going to do. The rest is up to you and your impression of this singular, one-of-a-kind work of art by Joy Brown.

PS. I forgot to name the baby in arms. For what its worth, I will name the baby Eduardo.

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