Joy Laville

Ryde on the Isle of Wight, England, 1923 - Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, 2018

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Joy Laville arrived to Mexico in 1956, settling in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. From 1956 to 1958, she studied painting at the Instituto Allende, which would be her only formal art training. Later she moved to Mexico City in 1968. She met the writer Jorge Ibargüengoitia in 1964 and they got married in 1973. When her mother in law died, the couple decided to live in Europe, spending time in London, Greece and Spain before settling in Paris in 1980. Ibargüengoitia called her “la mujer lila” or the “lily woman” and sometimes referred to her as “Cleo” in his writings. Ibargüengoita died in an airplane crash in 1983, while Laville was at their home in Paris. She continued to live in Paris until 1985. Then she went to live near Cuernavaca, Morelos in Mexico. (Source: Wikipedia)

The colors that Joy Laville almost always uses - lilac, mauve green, mint green, pink, white, gray and, of course, all the shades of blue - agree on a network of tonal relationships that make her visual music unmistakable.

The color in the painter's work helps - as Matisse wanted - to express the light; but not the physical phenomenon, but the only light that matters in art: light in the artist's mind. Her colors translate the essence of things, the landscapes and the beings she loves, while at the same time attesting to her emotions. (Source: Excerpt of Joy Laville: Una promesa de felicidad, by Alberto Blanco)

Her works are kind, pleasant, beautiful, they allow to be seen and lived and offer a hospitable balm to the look. However, I believe that in order to see clearly and to do justice to her painting, we should leave aside the anecdotal aspects that populate her work - her childhood on an English island surrounded by fog; her overseas voyage from England to Canada; her transplant to a country of dry plateaus and lush palm trees and beaches; her enjoyment for literature, for poetry; her inclination towards solitude; her marriage to a famous writer who died in a tragic aviation accident; her independence maintained at all costs; her passion for traveling -, and the first thing that should be seen and considered in the case of a painter, and especially of a painting, is how the paintings are painted.

When seeing the pictures of Joy Laville, we can not but recognize that they are very well done. In them there is a pictorial cleverness that is far from the supposed puerile simplicity of its themes and the hypothetically naive emotions that in us arouse. One has to be very distracted to think that the deceptive candor that reigns in the paintings of Joy Laville comes from its naivete like artist. Definitely not. It is born of her love for painting, the patient recognition of her craft, the structuring of a personal language, the intensity of her vision and her ability to share it.

The wise restraint of her palette, the soft harmony of her colors, the economy of the media, and love more than evident by a few familiar themes and objects are tempting traits in establishing relationships between this painter's work and that of others colleagues of their same aesthetic progeny: Matisse, Morandi, Avery, to name just a few examples. But this is the easy part of the task. Much more difficult is to try to distinguish in what does not resemble one artist to another. Where her faithful and inimitable originality lies.

And I believe that the originality of Joy Laville's vision - more than that of her painting - lies in the way she has resolved the contradiction that can be felt between the open-air art of the landscape and the intimacy of her spaces. How has this artist achieved that the great extensions of the mountains and the sea produce in us a feeling of quiet stillness, of home air, of familiarity? To a large extent thanks to Matisse's lessons and the colors she uses: soft pastel tones that invite relaxation. She has also succeeded in by means of her way of drawing: all the figures, elements and characters that appear in her paintings have been simplified in such a way that only their most intimate features remain, which produces a sort of interiority and complicity with those who look. On the other hand, one would have to ask if Joy Laville is indeed a landscape artist. I think it is not. At least not in the usual sense. She never paints the natural. His landscapes are mental, emotional, memorable, sentimental …

Both the shape and the extensions of the surfaces in her paintings are dictated by the expansive or reconcentrated needs of the color. If to this we add that their spaces, however they allude to large surfaces and distances, are solved in very simple, flat forms, assembled as in those puzzles for small children that have only a few pieces, we will see that there are form and visual reasons, as well as psychological and cultural, to feel that in her work are balanced, so precarious, a series of contradictions between the open and the closed, the great and the small, the public and the personal.

Her paintings are constructed with simplified shapes that are distributed in large areas of almost solid colors, or worked in very closed ranges, within a very fair and delicate palette. And while it is true that her painting has become increasingly abstract, she never leaves her figurative references in oblivion. Joy Laville balances her compositions with a few essential elements and forms, eliminating during the process all those superfluous details that do not contribute to the total harmony of the painting.

About this artist it could be said something very similar to what Mark Rothko said in making a heartfelt evocation of his teacher and friend, the New York painter Milton Avery: "He always had that naturalness, that accuracy, and the inevitable integrity that can only be achieved by those artists gifted with magical means; for those who were born to sing ... " she was born to sing with colors and to paint with a naturalness that has cost her a lot, but that can have effects that could be described as "magical" in who contemplates her paintings. (Source: Excerpt of Joy Laville: Una promesa de felicidad, by Alberto Blanco)




1974 Joy Laville, Dian Gallereis, London, England

1974 Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

1977 Joy Laville: Retrospectiva, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

1978 Joy Laville, Madison Gallery, Toronto, Canada

1985 Joy Laville, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

1998 Joy Laville: From the Quite Mind, Brewster Gallery, New York

1998 La Obra de Joy Laville, Galeria Emma Molina, Monterrey, Mexico

2004 Joy Laville: Retrospectiva, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

2005 Joy Laville, Ramis Barquet Gallery, Nueva York

2012 She received the Bellas Artes Medal from the Mexican government for her life’s work.

2015 Joy Laville, Centro Cultural Jardin Borda, Morelos, Mexico

2015 Joy Laville: The First Fifty Years, The McKinney Avenue Contemporary (The MAC), Dallas, Texas

2015 Joy Laville: Obra reciente, Galeria de Arte Mexicano, Mexico City