Joey Fauerso's work in the studio. Credit: Courtesy of Joey Fauerso.

Joey Fauerso had just turned 38 when she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. The cancer interrupted the most tender and arduous of life’s moments, a time when mothering is essential and formative, and while she was in the midst of shaping and pursuing her career as an artist.

Fauerso is married to artist and Artpace Studio Director Riley Robinson, and together they have two young boys. She also is an associate professor at the School of Art and Design at Texas State University.

After undergoing surgery and radiation, Fauerso is now cancer-free, but like most people, her life has forever been altered by the experience. In the two years since her surgery Fauerso has had ample time to reflect on her illness’ many complications and repercussions.

Joey Fauerso with husband Riley Robinson.
Joey Fauerso with husband Riley Robinson. Credit: Courtesy photo

During the last year, while on sabbatical, Fauerso transformed these difficulties into several advantages. She paid attention to the renewed perspective offered to her by this battle with her health, and her work reflects this wisdom. She also decided to stop using oil paint, due to its possible carcinogens and toxins.

As a painter, this presented both a loss and a technical challenge, yet Fauerso took it as an opportunity to expand her already considerable repertoire. In past work, she has matched the deft rigor of her formal technique with an inspired conceptualism, and the profuse series of images she has painted for her animated videos and installations display an ambitious scope.

In the past year, Fauerso has channeled her adeptness and exuberance toward a reductive method, which she applies both to printing and painting. She is showing these bodies of work in multiple exhibits, including A Soft Opening, at the David Shelton Gallery in Houston from Oct. 14-Nov. 12 and in the group show Reclaimed by Nature, curated by Claudia Arozqueta, at Blue Star Contemporary from Nov. 4-Jan. 8, 2017.

A reductive or subtractive technique involves covering paper or glass with a field of paint and then using an array of tools, such as spatulas, squeegees, cloth, and palette knives to remove the paint, thereby creating the composition/image and fusing painting and drawing.

Fauerso uses her tools to form representation as well as create the subtle gradations of light and dimension. In large paintings, this requires the same swift adroitness needed by a fresco painter. The reductive technique doesn’t allow for over-painting; instead it requires that the painting be laid out during one sitting, with no room for mistakes.

For example, “Utopia” (2016) demonstrates the complexity and layering together of Fauerso’s composition – the process is a spontaneous feat in which transferring the composition from the artist’s mind to paper requires the same meditative concentration that athletes describe as “being in the zone.”

Fauerso is currently using a limited palette of colors, including white, brown and black. Much of this work is monochromatic – all of the work in A Soft Opening is black and white. In several other series of paintings and prints, she displays a combination of figural, text, and iconic/graphic elements. Part of the wisdom in her recent work involves paying attention to daily life with a diligence that allows her to pluck out the revelatory aspects and set them into her work like a jeweler.

She mines the “creative gold” offered by her two young boys: their words become found poems and their play opens up a realm of observation and study.

In “A Hole Life” (2015), which will be featured at Blue Star Contemporary, Fauerso joins a remark made by her boys that “more animals live in holes than dig holes,” with her own adult artist perspective. The 18 9-by-12 inch gouache and acrylic drawings on paper include the boys’ spoken words juxtaposed with images of different types of manmade holes that Fauerso researched, such as bunkers, drug tunnels, and survivalist hideouts.

Joey Fauerso's work will be featured at Blue Star Contemporary Nov. 4-Jan. 8, 2017.
Joey Fauerso’s work will be featured at Blue Star Contemporary Nov. 4-Jan. 8, 2017. Credit: Courtesy of Joey Fauerso

This research has led her to delve further into this subject, in which she learned that humans have more distance in tunnels than any other living creatures. In “underground” (2016), a series of 11-by-17 inch monoprints, Fauerso considers “the underground in physical/historical and conceptual terms,” again combining painted images with words.

In “underground” and “this is not the accident,” Fauerso departs from displaying her work in a linear sequence. Instead, she arranges the prints on the wall so that they form a variety of shapes. In the case of “underground,” she creates the shape of a giant mound. These large installations, what Fauerso calls “shaped arrangements” alter the way a viewer reads the art, a consideration that is critical to the introduction of text in her work. While the words may be a poem, the arrangement allows the eye to jump around and read the words in a non-linear fashion. In these pieces, Fauerso began with the poem or text and developed the form around it.

Fauerso’s father is a musician. She grew up around music, and its strains and structure have seeped into her work, which contains familiar and repetitive themes like the refrains she continues to develop. Translated into visual terms, this includes her use of templates in her current series of prints, familiar reoccurring elements, combined with painting and words to form a visual rhythm.

The body continues to be one of Fauerso’s major subjects of study: she has painted many nudes and portraits of friends and family, along with performative work. Often these two are blended together, as they are in “Attendance” (2016), a video that will be exhibited on a platform on Shelton’s gallery floor “like a moving painting,” Fauerso said.

In this video, which varies from one image to diptychs and triptychs, Fauerso offers up her own body, symbolically reiterating the sacrificial bargain that is implicit in the role of motherhood. Inviting her sons to collaborate, Fauerso filmed footage of her belly button being covered with rocks, her teeth being brushed, her eyes being covered with paint, little hands gently play-hammering her feet – all to the sound of a simple, steady beat.

Like much of her current work, “Attendance” resounds with the resulting insight from her health issues and the experience and contemplation she integrated into it.

Laying bare her body, along with her most intimate, domestic moments, Fauerso approaches art with a clarity and honesty that is also deeply contemplative. She enriches her practice by reading widely and researching her topics of interest.

As of lately, she has been reading French deconstructivist philosophers and considering the flexibility of meaning. The idea that meaning isn’t fixed and that one can “read between the lines” has loosened Fauerso from becoming jaded or tired with the banal. It has allowed her to curate from life, to listen in and catch the good parts, amidst the cacophony of emails and Legos.

Fauerso’s Dog Hospital is currently on exhibit through Nov. 30 at Antenna Gallery in New Orleans. She will have another solo show of her work at Texas State University in January 2017 and will be featured in show at Austin’s Testsite in February 2017.

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Wendy Weil Atwell

Wendy Weil Atwell is a writer living in San Antonio, Texas. She received her MA in Art History and Criticism from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2002. Atwell is the author of The River Spectacular...