Today, I was browsing Facebook and I discovered a post by Joy Garnett, who was offering one of her paintings,”Evac (Strange Weather series)” (2005), to the first collector to pledge $10,000 to a fund for Haiti.
It struck me as a wonderfully generous thing to do, so I wanted to speak to the artist about her pledge and why she chose to do it.
Known for her disaster-influenced art, Garnett’s paintings are abstractions of images she finds on the Internet. The resulting works feel simultaneously mysterious, truthful, elusive and emotional. They are enigmas with an emotional clarity that feels romantic but contemporary.
The following is a chat I had with the artist over IM about her artistic gesture towards Haiti.
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Hrag Vartanian: What are you feeling about the situation in Haiti?
Joy Garnett: Shades of the same terrible feelings one had after the tsunami in ’05 and Katrina. Pretty hard to get your head around the magnitude of it.
HV: I know that your art is almost always based on images you cull from the web, so I have this image of you sitting at your computer browsing endless images of the Haitian earthquake. Am I off?
JG: Um, I actually haven’t had the stomach for it. I’ve barely been able to absorb it. It doesn’t work that way for me.
HV: Is distance necessary? Time?
JG: Distance is absolutely necessary. Yeah. And so it’s not like painting is some kind of journalism.
HV: Today, you offered one of you paintings, “Evac,” to anyone who would donate $10,000 to any Haitian charity of their choice. Where does this gesture come from?
JG: I woke up with it this morning. I’m all for the idea of a million people each giving 10 bucks, but I also have objects that are of value – paintings – that could command a larger sum. I thought about it before offering. It struck me that if someone, a collector, wanted to give more than 10 bucks, I’d be happy to encourage them to give more. A lot more. So it becomes a kind of joint effort in another way. Also, with social networks, it could be quite immediate.
I mean, it takes time to organize a benefit auction – and I assume there will be auctions to benefit Haiti in the coming year. But this is an immediate, practical, if somewhat impulsive, gesture.
HV: My first reaction was, “How generous!” and “What a wonderful idea!” But then I thought about it and while I still see the altruism on your part, I wondered the deeper meaning for you since you work with images of disasters in general. In fact, the painting you’re offering is an image derived from Hurricane Katrina.
JG: Yes, I thought about it and decided to choose that painting to donate, as it’s content actually is relevant to this disaster.
HV: In what way?
JG: It’s as you said: A painting based on a media image of a recent disaster that still reverberates.
HV: It reminded me of a tweet I read a few days ago by Bucky Turco of Animal. He wrote, “Haiti: The world’s Katrina” [disregard the prediction part]. Do you think it is?
JG: Well it resonates in the same way. Except we don’t have complete fools running the U.S. government as we did then. Thank goodness for something. In any case, at this stage any disaster of this magnitude is the world’s disaster.
HV: Have any collectors approached you about the painting?
JG: Not yet. But I have heard from one other artist who would like to do the same thing.
HV: Something tells me that was partly your wish for this, to encourage other artists to do the same. Was it?
JG: After posting, it occurred to me that while I may have the capacity to raise thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands, through the donation of one or two paintings, more established artists whose work commands a lot more certainly have it in their power to follow suit.
For instance: Damien Hirst is opening at Gagosian in New York on Jan 20th. I imagine he might take it upon himself to donate some portion of those inevitable sales. Just a suggestion.
HV: Do you think there will be a Haitian series in your work at some point?
JG: No, I doubt it. As I said: it’s painting, not journalism. It’s not about covering issues and events. It’s not about topicality, generally. The paintings I did that had to do with Katrina, for instance, were part of a much broader subject.