Joe Fox

Point Reyes CA, sculptor // August 2011
The closest I come to navigating the art world is by browsing the magazine 'Art in America' at the library once a month.

Joe lives and works on a good-sized plot of land in Point Reyes Station— it’s a homey place with a spacious, flourishing garden, a chicken coop, a horse barn, and just beyond the barn an overgrown field that stretches out to meet the road. In the middle of the field, amidst the sweep of knee-high, golden grass was an old Royal Enfield motorcycle, and the surprise of it there, glinting under the midday sun, brought on a childlike awe in me. Joe’s studio is inside the now gutted barn, occupying an area a bit off to one side where the horse stalls used to be, and the rest of the space is used mainly for his cabinetry and furniture-making work. As we chatted in Joe’s studio, he told us about the big sculptural piece he was at work on and how he approaches the logistical aspects of creating such large pieces. He explained that he likes to build models while working on a project, taking photographs of the work at different stages and then collaging them on to the models to help him determine his next step. Joe exudes an easy-going confidence and seems to have a relaxed methodology— he told us he’s comfortable having unfurnished work around, because he knows eventually the time will come to complete it and he recognizes that a lot of his work entails periods of trial and error, and that it’s okay to figure stuff out as you go along. I greatly admire Joe’s laid-back attitude regarding his own creative process; it reveals a great deal of patience, understanding, and generosity. It’s obvious how much Joe enjoys all parts of the process: all the riddles, the experimentation, the detours, and the shifts that eventually lead to a piece of finished work.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
Typically I say that I make sculpture and drawings. I also do woodworking for a living so that is a part of what I do.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I make custom cabinets and furniture, etc. It’s what I’ve mostly done for a living for the past twelve years. The building I work in is primarily a woodshop, though my studio does double duty as a place to make sculpture. Until recently I saw the two as exclusive occupations, but now I am beginning to employ ways to use what I’ve learned through woodworking into the sculpture.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I think that the most interesting part of making sculpture is the freedom to engage with different materials. My work has mostly employed traditional sculptural materials like wax, paper, plaster, rubber, wood and metal— found objects and assemblage that are perhaps put together in non-traditional ways. The subject matter springs mainly from my engagement with the world. My work has always explored my relationship to objects, and their relationship to one another in a controlled environment, like a gallery. I fabricate elements, combine objects. There is a formal/minimalist bent to my making. Maybe that is too broad. My earlier work has always felt very personal, as if there were secrets being revealed, whereas now I want to communicate through purer types of forms that are larger and more open, and not as hermetic. My work has always been connected to a sense of movement, often times through the expression of stillness. Frozen gestures, even the untouchability of displayed objects. Which is an important direction that my work is taking— a deviation from the use of objects that already come with a history and associations, in an attempt to create a more autonomous sculpture. I am also consciously trying to avoid square/rectilinear forms in my work in an attempt to rebel against the fact that cabinets are essentially a series of boxes within boxes. I need an escape!

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I mostly read in my spare time. I finished Anne Truitt’s journal/book Prospect, which gave me a new appreciation for the purity of a very spare aesthetic. I also spent some time with Volume 1 of the recent Mark Twain autobiography. Insights into two amazing minds.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
My biggest challenge is getting organized enough to constantly produce work, put it out there, and make a living doing it full time. The closest I come to navigating the art world is by browsing the magazine Art in America at the library once a month.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
I appreciate the solitude that having a space provides— here I am free to play, which is really all it is. I’ve had to put in a lot of sweat equity into this place: knocking down walls, building a floor, lighting, etc. But I would be struggling without it so I am grateful. It’s still a small space, so I have to constantly edit and try to keep it organized.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
The shift for me was in realizing that anything is possible. So instead of feeling like I can only make work of a certain scale I’ve resolved to make larger work, even outdoor pieces. Things keep happening. Opportunities to make work arise and I pursue them. My work is not autobiographical right now, although I have felt that previous work was personal enough to be autobiographical.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
We want to make a sculpture garden in this large (unmowed) field behind our house, and maybe get other artists involved.

What are you most proud of?
My family.

What do you want your work to do?
I want my work to not be confined to a gallery structure/environment, but rather to engage with a larger space and public. At the same time, I want the work to hold its own without being lost amongst the texture of the world— I think it is important for sculpture to engage with the world beyond architecture, and I’m just trying to figure out how to do this without it being trite. I want my newer work to be more accessible and approachable, but for people to still leave it with more questions than answers.

What advice has influenced you?
Be honest.

How will you know when you have arrived?
When I can make a full time living through sculpture, I will be content.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
My next deadline is the annual Box Show, at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station. The show is in August and runs into September. Everyone who participates is given an identical pine wood box and can do whatever they want with it. Everything is auctioned off at the end to raise money for the gallery. I encourage people to come out and visit and bid on something.

To see more of Joe’s work: