Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Interview With Joan Horsfall Young

Joan Horsfall Young
oil on board 12 x 12"

In ABC...Z, Joan Horsfall Young presents 12 inch square paintings of vegetables and fruits, one for each letter of the alphabet.

I’m getting hungry looking at your paintings. What inspired you to paint fruit and vegetables?

I was reviewing the letters of the alphabet with my three year old granddaughter and discovered that vegetables and fruits were the most poignant examples that I could find for her to connect the elementary sound of the letter with the visual image of the letter.

I like to think I know my vegetables and fruits, but I’m struggling to think what will represent X, or U and V - did you already know that there is a fruit or vegetable for every letter of the alphabet?

My granddaughter lives in Shanghai. Although she knew the names of some vegetables and fruits, usually it was in Chinese. So we determined to overcome this dilemma. By taking frequent walking excursions to the open market down the street we identified and learned the English names of some local products. When she correctly identified the letter the name the food starts with, we bought it, brought it home, prepared it and proudly presented it at dinner to Mommy and Daddy.

Each morning she could hardly wait to descend on the market to conquer another prize. As we walked we played food games. Imagine the games you can play with “a… artichoke”. Is it “a artichoke” or “an artichoke”? What is an artichoke? Why is it so prickly? Why is it called an artichoke? (Well, Arter ate it and choked on it, of course!)

In the first days we conquered “t…tangerine”, and “l…leek. “d…dates” came easily. It was thrilling to see her eating all these wonderfully healthy foods with such enthusiasm. Then disaster hit! We ran out of foods to fit the hard letters. I couldn’t find any thing for letters like “z” or “j”. There was no zucchini for “z” in this Chinese market. There was no jicama for “j”. What was I to do? There was nothing to do but to paint a painting for each letter. When I returned to California I did exactly that. As I was painting I reflected on what a joyous time I spent with her. We had connected on so many levels. A simple lettuce had inspired memory, emotion and action. We were away from the computer and all things commercial. All three generations had shared the art of conscious eating. Now, when I shop at the local farmer’s market, I reflect on how people across the world are doing the same, including my granddaughter.

I have produced a 6” x 6” booklet of all the images and letters and dedicated it to my grand daughter.

Did you have any difficulty finding the subject matter or keeping it fresh while working?

When living in England I ate a lot of vegetable marrow. In my frequent visits to China I ate a lot of zigua (small baseball sized watermelons). Jalapenos are indigenous to California and nearby Mexico. So I was familiar with all the foods, but finding them was not always easy. I had to wait through four seasons, to get them all.

What attracts you to this small format, and what do you like about it most?

I am usually a plein air or still life painter. This show really combines the two. All were painted from life. Because I wanted to limit the subject matter to just the fruit or vegetable, the small simple square format of 12 x 12" allows for personal compositions. There are a few that I would like to now paint on a much bigger scale.

I am hoping that viewers will enjoy these playful studies of vegetable and fruits. There is one for each letter of the alphabet. Will they be able to identify each letter before looking closely or if need be, reading the label?

As always my paintings are rendered with lots of thick buttery paint with loose brushwork. I strive for paucity. I want my paintings to be comfortable, pleasant to live with, charming, decorative… painterly not illustrative.

Joan Horsfall Young's exhibition starts February 1, 2011.

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