“I’d like my art to induce people to stop raping, torturing, and shooting each other. I don’t have the ability to end violence, racism, and sexism. But my art can help them look and think.”
—Joyce J. Scott
MacArthur Fellow Dr. Joyce J. Scott (b. 1948, Baltimore, MD) examines the extremes of human nature by conflating humor and horror, history, and fantasy, as well as beauty and brutality to create artworks that not only mine the fabric of our complex collective history, but that reveal universal truths. Best known for her use of the off-loom, free-form, glass bead weaving technique referred to as the peyote stitch, Scott merges beads, blown glass and found objects with autobiographical, sociological, and political content to unapologetically confront themes of racism, sexism, violence, inequality, history, and oppression while simultaneously embracing splendor, spirituality, nature, and healing.
Born to sharecroppers in North Carolina who were descendants of slaves, Scott’s family migrated to Baltimore where the artist was born and raised. Scott hales from a long line of makers with extraordinary craftsmanship adept at pottery, knitting, metalwork, basketry, storytelling, and quilting. It was from her family that the young artist cultivated the astonishing skills and expertise for which she is now renowned, and where she learned to upcycle all materials, repositioning craft as a forceful stage for social commentary and activism.
Early in her practice Scott worked with fiber, crafting clothing, jewelry, shoes, and quilts, as well as engaging in loom- constructed textiles. In the late 1970’s Scott began to investigate beads, aspiring to capture light and mix color independent of painting techniques. It was at that time that she learned the peyote stitch process from a Native American bead artisan who generously shared her methods. As Scott’s practice evolved, she began to combine multicultural found objects into her beadwork. Concurrent with her bead practice, Scott also experimented with printmaking, performance art, vocals, and even comedy. The artist saw no boundaries within the creative process.
Scott began to work with glass artisans to create blown, pressed, and cast glass that she incorporated into her beaded sculptures. This not only allowed her to shift the scale of her work, but it also satisfied her desire to collaborate. In 1992 she was invited to the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state. Continuing her interest in glass, Scott worked with local Baltimore glassblowers as well as with Paul Stankard. In 1997 Scott began to make hundreds of prints with the ateliers at Goya-Girl Press as well as Pyramid Atlantic, and later with Sol Print Studios and Goya Contemporary. In 1999, Scott opened a large one-person exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, co-organized with MICA, which at that time was the first Black, female artist to be offered a one-person exhibition within the institution’s history. In 2011, Scott traveled with her primary gallery Goya Contemporary to work at the Inferno Glass Studio in New Orleans where she created groundbreaking work for the 2011-2012 U.S. Biennial, Prospect2 in New Orleans. In 2012 Goya Contemporary Gallery sent Scott to work at Adriano Berengo’s celebrated glass studio on the island of Murano in Italy, creating works that were part of Glasstress during the Venice Biennale. Returning in 2013, Scott continued to create important works that would go into major collections including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, among myriad others. During 2014-2015, Scott’s Baltimore and Boston galleries joined to assist curator Lowery Sims in presenting Maryland to Murano: The Neckpieces & Sculpture of Joyce J. Scott at the Museum of Arts and Design in NY. Late that year, Scott’s Baltimore gallery worked with Patterson Sims to organize Joyce J. Scott: Truths and Visions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland.
In 2017, Scott and her primary dealer, Goya Contemporary Gallery, opened her largest exhibition to date at Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey which was co-curated by Lowery Stokes-Sims and Patterson Sims. In addition to historic and recent objects, Scott realized two large-scale, site-specific works focused on the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, created at the Johnson Atelier. Hailed a great success, Scott’s powerful work was used to build curriculum in nearby colleges, including Yale. Described by Nancy Princenthal in her New York Times article: “Indeed you can’t make out what these sculptures are about without coming closer than you feel you should — and seeing things you won’t soon forget.” Through its dazzlingly beauty, Scott’s work lures the viewer into an intimate space, only to reveal some of our most challenging moments as humans. This tactic invites the viewer to engage in a dialogue. Rather than place blame, the artist asks her viewers: what do WE do to stop these atrocities? Speaking of her work, Scott says: “I’d like my art to induce people to stop raping, torturing, and shooting each other. I don’t have the ability to end violence, racism, and sexism. But my art can help them look and think.”
In 2018, Scott’s Tubman work traveled to other venues including Open Spaces Kansas City (2018) organized by Dan Cameron. Throughout 2019, Scott opened two exhibitions–one at the Baltimore Museum of Art and a companion exhibition at Goya Contemporary-- highlighting the relationship between her work and the work of her mother, celebrated Fiber artist Elizabeth Talford Scott. In 2023, Scott opens a one-woman jewelry exhibition with her jewelry dealer, Mobilia, which is slated to travel outside the United States.
Scott, and her work, has been the subject of countless scholarly books and articles. She is the recipient of myriad commissions, grants, awards, residencies, and prestigious honors including from the National Endowment for the Arts, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Anonymous Was a Woman, American Craft Council, National Living Treasure Award, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for the Arts, Mary Sawyers Imboden Baker Award, MacArthur Fellowship (2016), Smithsonian Visionary Artist Award, National Academy of Design, among others.
Scott earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and a Master of Fine Arts from the Instituto Allende in Mexico. In 2018, she was awarded an honorary fellowship from NYU, as well as honorary doctorates from both MICA and the California College of the Arts. Scott’s work is included in many important private and public collections including the Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC; Detroit Institute of the Arts, MI; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; Museum of Art and Design, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; The Smithsonian, Washington, DC; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Baltimore, MD; Speed Museum, Louisville, KY; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; National Museum of American Art in Washington DC The Mint Museum of Art, NC; Johns Hopkins University, MD; the Toledo Museum, Ohio; among countless others.
Scott’s wide-ranging body of work has crossed styles and mediums, from the most intricate beaded form to large scale outdoor installation. The contradiction between the burden of her complex narratives compared to the brilliance of her materials, powerfully reveal the equality in“craft” and “fine art.” Scott lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.
© Goya Contemporary Gallery & The Artist Legacy Project