Joy Miessi holds nothing back as she paints, illustrates, and collages her emotions – mistakes and all – with everyday thoughts on race, sexuality, and gender
“EXPECTED TO CENTRALISE MY IMAGE ON MAINSTREAM BEAUTY”, “I’LL LOOK INTO THE TV, SO DEEP, AS IF IT WERE A MIRROR”, “I’D PRAY FOR THE WOMEN WHO HELPED ME TO RISE”.
London-based artist Joy Miessi is sending messages through her work, a combination of illustration, typography, painting, and collage that brings you into her world and makes you want more. These energetic works – often filmed and reshared on her Instagram before being sold through her shop – provide intimate glimpses of the 24-year-old’s inner life, emotions, and thought processes. As well as statements and responses to wider issues of race, sexuality, gender, and the experiences of a British-born member of the diaspora. Bright pops of colour and Black-featured portraiture combine with scrawled and block printed text to embrace the process of ‘becoming’ – the liberating act of drawing something out of oneself and translating it into a new medium to be shared with the world. Miessi’s work lays its process bare – scribbling out words and leaving spelling mistakes in. As a result, they are visceral, honest and raw – given further life through the descriptions that detail the artist’s headspace while she was making them.
With Miessi’s work on show in the upcoming exhibition We Are Here: British BME Women (launching at Alev Lenz Studio on 6 July), we sat down with the artist to discuss the power of owning mistakes in your art and the importance of PoC collectives.
“I see my work as a visual diary, a documentation of me” – Joy Miessi
When did you first start creating art and how has your style and medium changed since?
Joy Miessi: I started creating illustrations outside of education in college. I had this Tumblr blog and I uploaded small scribbles and drawings and got a lot of positive feedback from it. This gave me confidence to then apply for illustration, which is a part of what I do now. I’ve gone from stop motion animation to painting to ceramics so it’s an ongoing process of evolution. I like anything that makes a mark, a line, a stroke, so I use oil bars, pastels, ink – anything that allows me to be quite fluid with movement.
Personally, for me, there’s a Basquiat-esque-type energy within your work. Who are your influences and artists you admire, both past and present?
Joy Miessi: Basquiat’s work is something I can connect with for sure, I think we both have work which is heavily type-based. But for me, Matisse – I remember the Cut Out exhibition at the Tate so well. And Jenny Holzer, I loved the piece she had shown at the Light Show in the Hayward Gallery. Those visits and those artists’ work still stick with me now. I find myself admiring non-visual artists too, from musicians and DJs to all the London makers out there making podcasts and films – all this inspires me to make and collaborate.
There’s real intimacy within your work. Do you use your art as a way to express your thoughts and feelings but also as a way to figure these things out?
Joy Miessi: I see my work as a visual diary, a documentation of me, and so my race, gender, sexuality are recurring themes in my work. Tied in with this are social issues and current news and events. I write about feelings in the moment – writing it all down gives me the time to reflect and just let it all out. I'm not that outgoing or social as a person, so I guess this is a major outlet for me, in terms of expression. I cross parts out and make so many typos – it is just about how I feel in that moment, what I'm thinking. When I look back over old work, it reminds me of a very clear moment or story in my life, so it does feel very personal.
The spontaneous, chaotic energy in your pieces feels particularly liberating – to see work that is so comfortable in its moment of creation, and an artist that isn’t afraid to show the process and ‘mistakes’ within the piece itself. What does your practice look like? Is it everyday? Are pieces planned or more spontaneous?
Joy Miessi: I wish I could work every day but I also have a job, so I work in the morning or any spare evenings I have. My planning comes in the form of phone notes and little scribbles on loose bits of my paper that I do on my break. When I create a new piece I use these as a reference, along with photos from my phone, and then everything else is (made) in the moment. I make so many ‘mistakes’ but I learn to love these parts at the end of the process. It can take me a while to finish a piece and be happy with it. Sometimes I come back to it and cut it apart and use bits for the next piece.
You have a piece for sale titled “50” on your website priced at £21.856.52 – what's the story behind that?
Joy Miessi: Just before making that, I had received a letter from Student Finance reminding me of my debt. It was unbelievable and much higher than I knew as they’ve added interest daily. The thought of this stressed me out and this piece is a result of that. When I'd finished it, I thought I would upload it onto my shop, pricing it the exact amount of my debt to highlight how ridiculously high student fees are. Also on the extremely rare chance that someone might buy it and relieve me of my Student Finance burden.
You have work in an upcoming group exhibition, We Are Here – can you tell us about that?
Joy Miessi: We Are Here is the work of first generation UK women of colour artists coming together to exhibit. It's a mix of illustrators, photographers, and 3D work. The work is a reflection of our existence in this current political/social climate and to show that we are out here.
“I cross parts out and make so many typos – it is just about how I feel in that moment, what I’m thinking” – Joy Miessi
One of the pieces in the show is a collaboration between you and ceramic artist Freya Bramble Carter. Do you collaborate a lot and what was that process like with Freya?
Joy Miessi: I love collaborations. Making work and generating ideas you wouldn’t have created on your own. I've made ceramics with Freya and am working on an upcoming collaboration with one of my favourite painters Hamed Maiye. It’s exciting to just meet and connect and make. These have all come about through Instagram too.
The vision for my collaboration with Freya came about after seeing our work displayed alongside each other at BBZ’s second event at Buster Mantis. Since then we'd been talking about collaborating and finally made it happen. We made a piece based on a radio show that was discussing mental health from a PoC aspect. It was really fun; we spoke about our own views and after a few weeks we'd have this pot documenting the show, our thoughts and conversation on that moment. Freya started spinning some clay and I would then work into the clay using random tools I found in her studio like an afro pick.
Why do you think it’s important for women of colour to have their own spaces within the art world?
Joy Miessi: It's about us representing ourselves, giving ourselves room to make work without being limited to Black History Month or being used as a token, which are things I have experienced. I’ve found my work to be much more understood within these spaces, and I value that – and all the current WoC collectives out there making waves.
We Are Here: British BME Women launches 6.30-930pm Thursday 6 July and then runs 10am-6pm until Sunday 9 July at Alev Lenz Studio, 73 Kingsland Road, E2 8AG. A panel discussion will take place from 12-1.30pm on Saturday 8 July. Buy Miessi’s prints here