Joy Laville, b. 1923, Isle of Wight, England
Lives and works in Cuernavaca,Mexico
“Her paintings are composed as carefully as Matisse’s: you cannot move anything because the whole composition falls apart.” -painter Gunther Gerzso on Joy Laville’s work
The simplicity of Laville’s work is deceptive. She struggles to reduce her painting to its essence, searching for the image that will “read” like poetry. The ocean remains for Laville a symbol of the unknown. In Coming Up for Air, 1991, three water sprites rise to the surface, far away from shore. In Bride on the Beach, 1993, a young woman, her face veiled, waits to embark on the boat that will take her to her husband-to-be.
One might never guess that Laville’s serene images are generated by disquiet; only careful contemplation of the image delivers the emotion they hold within. She imbues each personage, still life, landscape or interior with a form of temperance that conveys tension and also keeps them interesting and gives them presence. Even her portraits reveal more about the sitters than simply their outward appearance.
During the spring of 2004, Joy Laville was honored with a retrospective exhibition at Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno. Her evocative work—reflective memory suspended in time—belies its depth. Leonora Carrington refers to it with admiration as “a fingerprint” because it is unique.
Laville is vulnerable, perhaps, but not fragile. She works zealously and has presented twenty-one individual shows in twenty years, in Mexico, Europe, and the United States. Last year’s retrospective exhibition at the Museo de Arte Moderno, curated by Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros, brought together works from more than four decades and represented Joy Laville’s unique and continuing contribution to contemporary Mexican art.