Jessica Joslin is a deft Medium whose tools of the trade are not dog-eared Tarot cards or a faded Ouija board, instead she employs drills, jewler’s files, well oiled hand taps and needle nose pliers. From bins of antique hardware, beads, aged leather, salvaged antique serving wares and animal bones, Joslin gives birth to magical beasts that are elegant, noble and rife with emotion.
She beckons her creatures from the forgotten places of our collective past – piecing together the misplaced memories that lie dormant in our silverware, opera gloves and door knockers, while also honoring the life blood that once pulsed through the very bones of the beings she reanimates.
Looking into the faces of her beasts, which are without exception uncloaked skulls, it is clear we are gazing upon each animals mortal remains. Yet these are lively creatures that seem to hold no regret for their demise. Rather they appear quite content to sally forth as quizzical servants of the heart, each one a messenger beckoning us to lean close so they might whisper their hard-earned secrets.
Clio and Loci, 2010
Each of Joslin’s pieces hold such spontaneous vitality, it’s easy to imagine that all she does is plunge her nimble fingers into her various bins of metal bits and out swirl her jolly critters. But that notion would be quite misguided. Granted, the supreme craftsmanship of her beasts is not immediately discernable – they are so seamlessly assembled it is easy to overlook the extreme precision and planning that go into all of her works.
The most obvious hurdle she clears with every creation is mastering how to assemble the vast assortment of found objects, handcrafted pieces and bones. Due to the extraordinary precision required in the assembly of her beasts, she has literally needed to become fluent in the many languages of her materials, and every new beast often brings a new challenge. Fortunately, Joslin has an ever curious mind and has availed herself to a wide range of trade professions through the years, including working in model shops, rapid prototyping shops, carpentry shops, sculpture & exhibit houses. In all instances, she took away a new skill which has directly translated to her work.
Her creatures are in a sense little machines filled with intricacies not discernable in photographs. She states, “many of the beasts have hidden movements: a spring loaded beak, snapping jaws, jointed legs and adjustable tails. Some creatures are free-standing but have mechanisms to allow for movement or multiple positions.”
Admiral & Luce and Virgil & Ace, 2008
It is worth noting, that Joslin has utmost respect for animals, her website discloses, “With the exception of replicas and common domestic species (eg. chickens) animal bones are acquired from licensed distributors, the sort of company that a natural history museum might work with if they were putting together an exhibit.” She also has mastered the art of casting her own bones so she might create a wide variety of species. She takes great care to create her replica bones to be as indistinguishable as possible from the real bone specimens and is sensitive to using UV resistant resins to ensure archival longevity.
In contrast to the hidden, well-tooled interior structure, the decorative nature of Joslin’s pieces is obvious. Many would agree, it is the eyes of her beast that capture the absolute soul and give each animal it’s undeniable personality. Joslin explains in a Coilhouse Magazine interview with Meredith Yayanos, “As in painting, achieving a particular expression is a very finicky process. Sometimes it takes several tries to get the gaze to be naturalistic.” One of her many techniques for eyelids is to deftly sew opera gloves around glass taxidermy eyes – and it has taken many years to master.
Enzo and Donato, 2004
Joslin is a methodic, respectful and thoughtful creator – her skills beyond reproach. If creating supremely crafted creatures were all Joslin did, she would stand alone as one of the great sculptors of our day. But she is much more than that – she is a sharp witted inventor plucking impossible notions from the ethers and making them solid. She is also a patient mother, encouraging the voiceless souls of her creations to speak their mischievous truths. Gazing into their eyes, I can sense how her breath once fogged the surface of their metal spines as she slowly coaxed them to life. Witnessing the birth of her children must at times be unsettling, but I am certain any momentary goose flesh is always accompanied with a screw turn of enchantment.
Joslin’s works have been assembled into a beautiful hardbound book with 140 full-color plates. It can be purchased at Lisa Sette Gallery who represent her works.
She was kind enough to allow an interview, below are the 5 questions I ask everyone, plus a few special ones just for her.
What artists or creative person has influenced you?
The other 2 Joslin artists are my steadfast partners in crime and all around biggest influences. My husband Jared Joslin; is a painter and his brother Russell Joslin; is a photographer, as well as the editor of Shots Magazine. I have a HUGE amount of respect for both of them as artists and they are the people whose advice I most trust and rely upon. Jared and I share a studio, so on a day to day level, there is an ongoing discussion about whatever we are working on. He knows my work better than anyone, so he’s able to notice subtleties that most wouldn’t. For example, with the Great horned owl that I just finished, we conferred on details like the differences in serration between the primary feathers and the secondary feathers.
Other visual artists whose work made a particularly deep imprint are: Lee Bontecou, Archimbaldo, Hans Bellmer, Ernst Haeckel, Eadweard Muybridge, Heironymous Bosch, The Blaschkas, Walton Ford, Matthew Barney, Walter Potter, Helmut Newton, Franz Von Bayros, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Albertus Seba, Egon Schiele, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Patrick Gries, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, and Frederik Ruysch.
If I were to get into music, literature, and film, the list would become too imposingly long…not to even mention people whose work I SO often look to for inspiration, like David Attenborough!
Not including other artists or art, what inspires you?
Animal anatomy & Osteology
The golden age of the circus
Exquisite craftsmanship, of any sort
Animals doing tricks, like parrots riding tricycles, or dogs balancing on goats on tightropes…or animals just doing their thing.
The metallic embroidery on antique Odd Fellows ceremonial garments
The beautifully precise threads in very old bolts
Antique silver services, especially the semi-obsolete items like salt cellars, biscuit jars and knife rests
People working with machines, especially large and very well calibrated machines
The thought of what I might make next…
What is the part of your process you enjoy the most?
The moment that I realize that things are coming together just as I’d planned.
… what is the least?
The moment that I realize that I drillled a hole in the wrong place, or at the wrong angle, and I will need to re-make a complicated piece. Also, cutting apart certain types of serving trays and musical instruments can be pretty unpleasant. They conduct the sound so well that you can hear it from a block away! Also, while doing this, I need to work very slowly and carefully. One little slip of the cutting wheel can mean that an expensive piece of antique silver is detroyed, and I will have to start all over again.
If you were NOT an artist, what would you be doing?
I worked for many years doing all sorts of jobs where I built things for other people: architectural models, industrial and toy prototypes, trade show displays, props, theater and film sets, etc. Those jobs were fascinating on a lot of levels and I love the challenge of learning new skills. I feel very much at home amidst the hum of machinery and whir of sawblades. At heart, I’m a shop girl…whether I’m doing model-making, carpentry, machining or prototyping, I just like making things. If I didn’t NEED to be making artwork, I probably would have been happy to be working with my hands.
How do you visualize your creations prior to construction? (do you sketch your ideas on paper or make smaller 3-D versions to work out the form?)
I can’t draw (except in the air, with metal) so I never do sketches. I usually do engineering drawings to work out certain details, for example, the various thread sizes and the angles of the limbs. With my work, there isn’t any room for error. If even one section of a leg is drilled at the wrong angle, the piece won’t stand, so there is a lot of engineering and planning that needs to happen before I begin construction.
Adornments are an intrinsic part of each creature. Do you have these in mind in advance, or do they materialize as your creation takes place? I am guessing it’s a bit of both?
Yes, it depends on the piece. With the Great Horned owl I just made, the filigree silver headpiece was one of my first considerations. Feathered “horns” are that species’ main distinguishing characteristic and that gets lost in the translation to bone. I found a lacy Victorian silver bon bon dish with a scalloped edge, made a pattern template of the top of the head, and cut the headpiece from the edge of the dish. The scalloped edge conformed to the curve of the horns.
When I look at your creatures, I can’t help but anthropomorphize them. Do you see them as having individual personalities and even opinions? If yes, if this something you hone, or does it emerge?
Usually, the very last detail that I add is the eyes. Once they are set, I choose a name for him or her and consider it complete. At that point, it feels more like a pet than something that I’ve made…I guess I can’t help but anthropomorphize them either! I sometimes find myself talking about them as if they were pets…casually mentioning what I love about them, without realizing that it might sound egotistical. Once they are finished, it really doesn’t seem like I built them anymore…it seems like they just are.
Thank you for your time Jessica!
Joslin created a great horned owl, “Cooper,” for “In The Trees: TWIN PEAKS 20th Anniversary Art Exhibition.” A group show honoring filmmaker David Lynch. Taking place at Clifton’s Brookdale Saturday, February 12th, 2011 (8 – 11pm). Jessica Joslin (and her talented husband, painter Jared Joslin) will be present.
She has works available for purchase with Lisa Sette Gallery.
A very enjoyable dual interview in which Jessica Joslin and her husband, Jared Joslin interviewed each other may be read at Dangerous Ink Magazine.
Once again, this is the very informative and thoughtful article by Meredith Yayanos for Coilhouse Magazine.
You may view more of this talented artist’s portfolio on her website.