“I hope my work can bring you a sense of quiet.” (An Interview with Joyanna M.)

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For Half Mystic Journal’s sixth issue, we wanted to explore what might be uncovered in the spaces between, silver-blue bridges, fog-searching transience. Our featured artist reveals perfectly all the things we’ve found lingering here. Please give the warmest possible welcome to our featured artist for Issue VI: Interlude, Joyanna M.

HM: Issue VI works under the theme of interlude: the keystrokes of transitory – the movement in the rest – the inhale before the storm. How does this theme resonate in your art? How does it resonate within you?

JM: Interludes, as music, serve as transitions between bigger pieces. But they can also be unique and fascinating on their own merit. I’m thinking now of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, the promenade between each of the pictures, how they give continuity to the whole and speak to the surrounding pieces. As a musician, I’ve used interludes extensively on two of my LPs, Winter Rose and She Persisted, as a transition and as a pause for contemplation. 

So when I was asked to paint pieces for the theme of interlude, I approached it as a transition between written pieces, as a pause and place of peace for the reader. I wanted to catch the silence of musicians frozen in the act of making music, with the only movement implied in the stillness.

What are you hoping to capture within your art? What emotions guide you as you create?

Anxiety figures large in my life—as I think with many artists, it strikes me without cause or reason. The art and music that I consume dispel those feelings, serve as an escape into calm. When I paint or write or play, I think of myself as the primary audience and assume that those like me will find solace and connection in my work. If you seek excitement as an antidote to a mundane life, you will probably find my work rather boring. But if your life is full of anxieties, real or imagined, I hope my work can bring you a sense of quiet. 

Does music impact your artistic creation? If so, how?

Music is a large part of my life and a great influence on everything that I do. I love unaccompanied piano music, Chopin’s nocturnes, and Grieg’s lyric pieces. I love the simplicity of the piano—the way the only variable is volume, yet even this single element can create complex and interesting bridges. My paintings are often monochromatic; I find that to be soothing, the way my eyes can relax into the depiction of form and texture rather than vibrant color.

Expanding on that, are there other sounds that impact your creation? Are there noises you associate with music that others might not?

Most sounds are music to me. Right now, the dishwasher is running, and I’m enjoying the rhythm of its soft, understated symphony. The music I write is often downtempo, with backgrounds that ebb and surge. Sometimes it is dissonant and distorted, full of elements that might sound unpleasant on their own, but set into the backdrop of a harmonious foreground.

How do you define the concept of interlude? Where in your life do you find your own personal interludes?

When my partner, Lily Bell, and I were creating our LP Winter Rose, we wanted the final creation to be more than just a collection of songs—more of a work of art in different pieces. At the same time, we were writing spoken word poems for a prompt we’d found online, so I had all of these recordings of Lily reciting poetry against soft background textures. We decided to intersperse each song with a recited poem. Honestly, the result is a slight mess, but I feel it is a lovely mess. 

In life, I am often overwhelmed by my desire to create. Completing something as simple as the spoken word prompts feels like the truest interlude to me—it gives me the chance of a small creative success, to rebuild my courage for larger projects.

One thing the Half Mystic team appreciates about your work is your tender use of grayscales. What inspires you to linger in these unknowns? 

I have always gravitated towards working in a monochromatic medium, and one reason I love watercolor is that it encourages a soft, muted color palette. Even when I paint work that isn’t in grayscale, I tend to remove the color in post-processing.

I think of piano music as monochromatic—there’s never any change in the tonal color of the song. I don’t read music very well, so when I sit at the piano, I love to improvise. The same applies to paintings—if I am focused on the form of the piece, I pick an earth-tone and build the painting’s shapes with that rather than a large range of color. To pull shapes forward, I use light; to push into the background, I use dark.

You often depict human figures in your work, which creating a deeply intimate experience for the audience. What challenges do you face in painting people? 

I enjoy painting the human figure, especially faces and hands. I love the challenge of finding the minute qualities of an expression and representing those to the truest extent I can, even if it’s only in broad brush strokes. The concentration of a musician as they play fascinates me; I love depicting that pensiveness, making the audience wonder what the subject is feeling or thinking.

The biggest challenge in figure painting is that the eyes of the audience are so unforgiving. If you are painting a landscape or a still life, your proportions and symmetry can be slightly off without many noticing, but even the slightest oddity in a human face becomes a distraction from the painting as a whole. I enjoy those constraints, though, at least partially because my eye can tell me whether I have succeeded in the depictive aspect. 

When did you begin making art? What helps you persist in your artistic journey?

I don't remember not making art. I have too much nervous energy to ever sit still, and if I'm not creating, the anxiety remains in the recesses of my mind, waiting to pounce. I think this dilemma is common in artists. Perhaps it is why we have art in the first place.

How does your artistic process differ across mediums? Are there distinctions between the ways in which you create visual art, written art, and musical art?

Music is a deeply abstract art form, in that there is nothing in front of you to reliably depict. But music also has strong constraints in its patterns and repetitions, harmonies and dissonance. I view much of life in musical measures and bars, in multiples of four. When I approach the world, I do so with the mindset of building conflict, finding resolution, thinking in sentences and paragraphs that flow with time. I think of the arc of the story, building and releasing tension. Painting is much simpler, though—there is only conceiving an image, trying to represent it on paper or canvas. It can be abstract or depictive, but there is no time constraint in the same way as music or literature.

Genres in music and writing bring with them expectations from an audience; the medium of a painting brings physical limitations. In watercolor, I can only add a darker color. In acrylic, I can layer light and dark, a chiaroscuro of sorts. I don’t consider one medium or genre superior; I do think the magic lies in the way you use the tools at your disposal.

Where are you taking your artistic endeavors? Where are they taking you?

I have spent most of this year creating paintings for Half Mystic Journal and a poetry collection by Jennifer Patterson. To be quite honest, right now I dread seeing another blank canvas! But musically, Lily Bell and I are currently rehearsing to take our music project Aquamarine Space Unicorns live. We have always worked in the studio, where we can fuss over every minute aspect of our music. Going live means making compromises; we are trying to preserve the essence of our music, the soft intimacy of the two of us playing alone in the studio, and bring it to the stage. I’m not sure whether we’ll succeed, but I believe we’ll make something beautiful along the way.

Joyanna M. resides in Seattle with her partner Lily Bell, where they both create fiction, poetry, art, and music. Her works have been published in The Rumpus, Moonchild Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, Rag Queen Periodical, and Five:2:One. She is the featured artist in Jennifer Patterson's new poetry collection A Beautiful Unraveling. She produces music under the moniker Aquamarine Space Unicorns. You can follow her on Twitter at @joyanna1985 and read selected works online at www.joyannam.com.