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Interview with Joseph Cory

"Elgin no. 2 (Lights, Nocturne after JMW)"


Milwaukee Avenue’s I Am Logan Square gallery has assembled a new exhibit exploring the depiction and influence of light in contemporary art.  “Chicago Nocturne,” curated by Michael Langhoff, features works by Seungbin Choi, Nikki Fischer, Lauren La Rose, and Joe Cory, among others.  Cory, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago MFA program, lends his ethereal paintings of suburban landscapes to the ongoing exhibit.  Last week, I got in touch with the Elgin resident and asked him to reflect on his experience with “Chicago Nocturne.”

Jay Jensen: Your work is currently on display at I Am Logan Square’s “Chicago Nocturne” exhibit.  How did you get involved with this exhibit?

Joe Cory: A mutual friend introduced me to the exhibition’s curator Michael Langhoff about a year and a half ago. Michael and I are both SAIC graduates and interested in similar ideas regarding art, so we hit it off right away and have stayed in contact. When Michael announced the idea for the show last fall I contacted him about being a part of it. My work seemed like a natural fit with the curatorial ideas surrounding the exhibition.

JJ: Michael Langhoff said of the exhibit, “Chicago Nocturne is based on the metaphorical and spiritual principles of Light in contemporary art.”  How do you interpret this theme, and what has it meant to you in your career?

Dusk (Nocturne after JMW)

JC: I have come to equate the idea of light, especially in metaphorical or spiritual terms, with the idea of presence. What I mean by presence is the idea of a specific place being inhabited by something or someone. Whether human or divine, when someone is present in a place they bring some source of light, be it a flashlight, campfire, or turning on the lights in a room. This accompaniment simultaneously acknowledges their presence and acts to change the conditions of the place. These ideas are behind a lot of the work that I make. I use light metaphorically in this sense. It is the acknowledgement of my presence in and interaction with the places in which I live that I am most interested.

JJ: “Chicago Nocturne” prominently features one of your oil paintings called “Elgin No. 2.”  Do you have any anecdotes you might share about the creation of this painting?

JC: I live in the far western suburb of Elgin. It historically was its own autonomous city until the suburbs grew into it, and so it has this mix of urban, suburban, and rural fabric that changes as you drive around. This painting is of a sports complex at night in one of the subdivisions outside of town. These complexes are off the main road and surrounded by trees that cover the unsightly chain link and light poles viewable during the day, but at night they can be seen for miles because of the bright lights that surround their parameter and light up the fields. Again, these lights are symbolic for an unseen presence or activity that is taking place both in and away from the rest of the environment. They are also simultaneously beautiful against the dark sky and terrible light pollutants that keep us from seeing the stars. Their presence promotes activity and community, but also distracts from the natural conditions that would be viewed if they were not there. Finally, they can also be symbolic for a variety of metaphors regarding light in darkness. I intentionally kept the composition simple to leave room for an open ended interpretation, but ultimately they are the representation of many different conflicts that we live with.

JJ: What are your impressions of the art community in Logan Square, and what has it been like to show your work in this part of town?

"Elgin no. 4 (Ballpark)"

JC: I have never lived in the Logan Square neighborhood, but I have many friends (both artists and non-artists) who either currently live in Logan Square now or have in the past. I have lived in the East Rogers Park neighborhood for almost 5 years and I see a lot of similarities between the two neighborhoods with the vibrant cultural diversity and urban fabric that artists find attractive, although Logan Square has much better restaurants. The thing that I like most about both neighborhoods is their accessibility to those who would not normally view art; yet alone go to the Gold Coast or the West Loop to view it. Logan Square has an unpretentiousness that attracts a wide range of people. I experienced this at the exhibition’s opening when I met people who came in to see the show just because they were walking by the space and curious to see what was happening inside. This is a good thing, and something I’d like to see happen more often.

JJ: You have worked successfully in several mediums: painting, prints, drawing, etc.  I was especially interested to see that you produce charcoal sketches.  What attracts you to this particular approach?

JC: I love the immediacy and flexibility that drawing in charcoal encourages. The physicality of the material and of the process is different from oil painting, and the editing process is much more active and intuitive. The size of the charcoal sticks, unlike graphite, will not allow me to work tightly in regards to detail. The medium encourages a directness in the mark making, so the shape of the mark becomes very important to the overall development of the form. I also like that if it doesn’t work, I can just wipe the charcoal off and start over, which leaves a record of the history of my making the drawing.

JJ: A statement on your homepage reads, “I use paint and my relationship to the suburban landscape to negotiate my existence.”  Instinctively, I like the idea that art is a kind of negotiation.  Can you say more about this sentiment?

JC: I use art as a way to help me make sense of my relationship to the world in which I live. Both physically and poetically art is often the result of my process of thinking through my daily experiences and constructing meaning. I negotiate these experiences through my own forms of art making or through the visual and non-visual art forms of others. The idea of poetry and metaphor becomes important to this process, and so I agree that art is very much a negotiation in both the sense of mediating and dealing with our own experience.

JJ: How important is the suburban setting to your art?

"Dekalb no. 2"

JC: I do not think the suburban setting is overly important. I think it is very important for artists to be making work in response to the things or ideas they are encountering. I very much agree with Baudelaire’s call for artists to be of their time. I happen to currently be living in a suburban setting and so the isolation and separation that takes place in suburban environments has had a big effect on me. This results in it being a subject of my work. I have made work at other times when I did not live in the suburbs that had similar ideas, but I did not use similar imagery or sentiments. I am more interested in my work being a reflection of my experience then it being about the suburbs.


JJ: Lastly, what is on the horizon for your art and where can people expect to see your work in the future?

"Winter Suite no. 9"

JC: I am currently working on a new body of work that is more reduced in imagery then the body of work on display. As a result, the work is more of an abstraction of nature rather then a copy of it. The work still deals with ideas surrounding representation and of place, but in a less specific and more poetic manner. It is my hope that the viewer will experience these paintings as moments of reflection in transcendent, or poetic terms as opposed to a direct identification of specific imagery.

I am at the beginning of this process so I do not know when the body of work will be finished. I plan to have a large part of it complete this summer, and ready to be exhibited next fall or winter. As far as venues are concerned, I am open to exhibiting the work in a variety of places and I will be looking for more opportunities to exhibit the work in the near future.


“Chicago Nocturne”

March 8th through March 31th

I am Logan Square Gallery

2644 N. Milwaukee Ave

Chicago  Illinois

For more information on Joseph Cory visit his  website.

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1 Response to " Interview with Joseph Cory "

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