Evanston’s Fran Joy shows how the triumph of the human spirit prevails through her art.
Words by Lisa Delgliantoni
PHOTOGRAPHy by Chris Bradley
Fran Joy is an Evanston-based artist who has been painting off and on for the last 25-plus years. Joy sees herself as a community arts advocate and serves on the Evanston Arts Council and the Young Evanston Artists (YEA) board.
After studying art at Columbia College in Chicago, Joy combined her own experimentation with some training and observations from artists she admired. She’s drawn to tribal cultures as in African and Native American imagery and is known for her social justice pieces and her vibrant free-standing custom wood panels.
Joy was photographed by Chris Bradley to promote the
annual Open Studios Evanston artist studio tour. Bradley photographed seven visual artists in their studios; the portraits will appear alongside a question-and-answer interview in upcoming issues of Evanston Magazine.
Evanston Magazine: Tell us about your work and why you make it.
Fran Joy: The purpose behind my work is to show the power, strength, and triumph of the human spirit. As I witness the loss of life and humanity throughout the world, I am drawn to those who believe that the power of their faith and the strength of their character will make a difference in their lives, the lives of those they love, and the lives of those they share the planet with. On my own spiritual journey, heavy losses have made each blessing more meaningful and relevant. If there can be any good in adversity, it is this.
My work in this last year has been focused on social justice pieces because of what’s been taking place with people of color on an international and national level. Eyes are windows to the soul, so many of my images have extra emphasis on the eyes to make a point or convey a message or feeling. Other pieces may make you stop for just a second and think about the piece and what it’s saying. I’m trying to appeal to a sense of humanity in the average human being. There’s a coldness, a detachment, complacency, despair, frustration, anger, and a lack of knowledge and facts that guide popular opinions these days. The news is filled with episodes of violence and despair. The gap between the haves and have-nots is alarming. Institutionalized racism is ingrained and running rampant. A pipeline from school to prison exists because the private prison industry is making a fortune. Investing in prison has become more solid than investing in education or infrastructure. The color of a person’s skin or their gender has become reason enough to be destroyed with fear given as the reason why.
How do people respond to your use of the Pope, President Obama, and Malala in your work? I choose iconic figures that represent so many others or they may represent a concept of spiritual strength through adversity, especially if they’ve overcome what would normally seem to be insurmountable as in Malala, Mandela, the Pope, or President Obama. Malala, a young Pakistani female teenager can be hunted and shot in the head for simply wanting to get an education. She survives and is now a spokesperson internationally for women and education. Her slogan is “Stronger than Violence!” My art piece on a young urban boy simply states, “I want to live.” He has dreams, goals, and loved ones just like everyone else. He doesn’t want to die. He is hunted by neighborhood terrorists, domestic terrorists, and some of the trigger-happy cops who see him as an animal that needs to be put down in a cage or a grave. He can’t simply study and go to school without worrying about basic life survival. Racism, bigotry, extremism, greed, and hate are consuming reality at a rapid speed. I just want to plug into a basic natural humanity in mankind, if only for a second. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make a life altering change or decision.
I have had some very heartfelt responses to my work, which makes it all worthwhile. I have also had some controversial comments that I welcome because it gets people talking about real life and real life issues.
How has Evanston
helped your growth as an artist?
Evanston is home for me. Most of my adult life has been here. I raised my family through the school systems here all the way to Northwestern. I started out in Evanston galleries long ago and
represented other artists. After spending 10 years in Los Angeles, I returned to Evanston and now through connections with my faith, I have had two solo exhibitions featured at Garrett Theological Seminary on Northwestern campus and produced a piece on “Violence Interrupted” for their permanent collection through Center for the Church and the Black Experience (CBE). The CBE is an academic initiative focusing on church life as experienced by Black people. From its inception in 1970, CBE has prepared graduates of Garrett-Evangelical to be leaders among leaders.
I had the pleasure and opportunity to use the huge art studio at Garrett Seminary on the lake for about six months last year. It was peaceful and wonderful. I’m thankful to CBE and the staff, professors and students who were so warm and welcoming. I’m also thankful to Tina Shelton, a young minister at Second Baptist who made that connection. I’m back to working out of my studio apartment in a very small area but I just make it work! You do what you have to do to continue to create.
What would you like to see happen in the Evanston arts community?
It’s no secret that I would like to see more diversity in the arts in Evanston because Evanston is known for being a progressively diverse community. Some are not into figurative imagery especially depicting people of color. I do specialize in other art forms because of that. I have a particular niche of painting wood panels that can be wall mounts, room dividers, etcetera, of various custom designs from tribal images like Native American, African, Asian to more contemporary designs like geometric patterns or abstracts. They range in size and detail from small to large. They are free standing or wall mounts.