Joyce Wilson’s surreal photographs on view at Architectural Foundation Gallery
“Malka’s Place,” an exhibition of photographic montages by Joyce Wilson, is on view through Aug. 27 at the Architectural Foundation Gallery.
The photos in this exhibit were inspired by a visit to the home of Malka Belzberg, a local artist who attended an art class at Santa Barbara City College in 1993 and decided to become a full-time artist at the age of 60.
She claimed that she began with ceramics, when she “couldn’t help her grandchildren anymore.”
Ms. Wilson, whose career spans more than half a century, said, “When I went to Malka’s place, I stepped into a world of unearthly delights . . . fascinating shapes, textures and disturbing art like nothing I had ever seen. “As I explored Malka’s Place — many buildings scattered over six acres and spaces filled with Malka’s artwork (sculptures, ceramics, stained glass, mosaics and prints) — I began to dance with my camera, discovering textures and light on weathered walls, capturing abstractions and documenting stories.”
During return visits, personal stories of domestic violence and social injustice within Ms. Belzberg’s art emerged. Combining her photographs of textures and patterns and portions of the artworks, Ms. Wilson created photomontages to create art that transcends the descriptive.
Her images are intended to challenge viewers to focus on provocative and unsettling truths present in Ms. Belzberg’s life and art and in today’s world. Stories accompanying the art appear in the book “Malka’s Place.”
“I was fascinated with mythology and social cultures as a child, and this curiosity became an inspiration for my art,” said Ms. Wilson. “A central theme of my work pays homage to the female, humanity and our relationship to nature.
“I am a versatile artist working with traditional and alternative photographic processes, oil, acrylic and encaustic painting, collage and printmaking. Whether photographing or painting, I work intuitively, blending old world and contemporary technology using the camera as a sketchbook to create tapestries rich with metaphors and symbolism. The images are stories, and a mirror into my heart and my life journey.”
This series came about when Ms. Wilson was invited to Malka’s Place.
“I was fascinated with the way light was playing off distressed walls and fragments of Malka’s art creating glorious abstract patterns. But my curiosity and my camera began searching deeper, and I became obsessed with the story unfolding before my eyes.
“I spent the next year photographing, questioning Malka and searching the internet to understand what I was documenting. Creating this body of work during the pandemic with time to research and read shattered my comfort zone.
“After years of photographing and painting powerful, sensitive figurative work and experimenting with abstractions in nature, I found myself on a journey to tell stories of social injustice and create art that challenges the viewer to engage in provocative and elusive truths.”
Ms. Wilson juggled a career as a professional photographer while creating her own art, which has been widely exhibited and is held in the permanent collection of seven museums, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. She served on the faculty of Brooks Institute from 2001 to 2016 and has lectured and taught workshops throughout the world. Ms. Wilson is active in the Santa Barbara Art community as a board member of the Abstract Art Collective. She is a lifetime member of the prestigious Camera Craftsmen of America formed in 1905.
Due to current world events, she recently changed the direction of her work to abstractions and messages related to social injustice. All proceeds from sales of the book and art will be donated to the AFSB and the TO BE Gallery and Foundation, created to house Malka’s artwork and provide educational opportunities for at-risk children and families.
Ms. Belzberg was born in Israel in 1932 before the state was founded. During the 1950s, she served in the Israeli army. Because she wanted to help soldiers with psychological problems, and Israel didn’t have any psychology departments, she decided to go to Los Angeles in 1955.
After five or six years in the United States, she went back to Israel for further studies. She returned to the U.S. in the 1970s.
“There is a palpable, infectious verve in her work and in Malka’s being,” said Dane Goodman, retired director of the Atkinson Gallery at Santa Barbara City College. “Her art is not dispassionate or market driven. It exists because of her engagement with the gamut of life’s affairs. There are works of real joy with images of family and animals. She does not shy away from humor or whimsy.
“Nor does she avoid more difficult topics. Malka also constructs tough, disturbing works dealing with death, torture and abuse of women and children. Her own history allows her to see life as it is: dense, complicated with happiness and horror, richness and squalor, compassion and dread.
“To be with Malka in this stimulating environment with her sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints is to feel empowered with the notion of possibilities. Without hesitation or reticence, she has embraced the whole of her life as her subject.
“Like her name, Malka is singular.”