Joan Gardner created art for over 40 years, and her primary interests included painting, printmaking and bookmaking. Her creative ventures also included explorations in film and shadow puppetry. A puppet production of “Rooms” by Andrew Drummond was performed at the 42nd Street Theater in New York. She had been a member of 55 Mercer Gallery in Soho since 1973 until its closing at that location in early 2000.
Joan Gardner’s prolific career as a painter focused primarily on the world of fantasy and parody. The unrestrained creative energy of her work is achieved through the use of playful and whimsical imagery interspersed with the darker side of fantasy. Her vocabulary is grabbed in bits and pieces from all over the art world as well as from her own autobiography. This material is brilliantly painted, colored and collaged into large and small theatrical allegories. Medieval imagery, Bruegel, Rousseau, the artist’s friends and lovers, Indonesian tales and chimeras (like the monkey and lion) all find a place in Joan’s richly painted narratives. Her profound love of paint, vigorous gesture, rich psychological content and art historical references were the sources and inspirations of her remarkable work. Vibrant colors and whimsical imagery lure us into the paintings – they capture and delight us with their enticing, nightmarish humor.
“My images come from many sources including a large collection of masks and puppets from around the world. I have developed a style of intensity with color, form and gesture, which enhances the mood, mystery and ambiguity in my work. Humor plays a major role in my work as well. It must be subtle. I would like evoke a smile but never laughter.”
Joan Gardner’s education included a B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the University of Illinois, and a Yale-Norfolk Summer School fellowship. She taught at Connecticut State University, The University of New Haven, Kent State University, Lane College, Jackson, Tenn. and The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Not only was Joan Gardner a highly imaginative, gifted painter, she also explored to great success various other mediums such as printmaking, bookmaking, installation at and film. Her two dimensional work has been shown in solo and group shows in New Haven, New York and in many museums and galleries across the United States including The John Slade Ely House (a solo retrospective, and one in conjunction with her husband), Artspace, Real Art Ways, Clock Tower, Tuthill Gimprich Gallery and 55 Mercer Galleries, all in NYC, as well as the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Akron Museum, Akron, OH, and the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH. In the late 60’s and early 70’s Joan and her husband, Frank, made a number of experimental films. Her own stop motion animation films as well as those made in collaboration with her husband were shown and won numerous awards in many film festivals across the United States including Yale (three), Monterey, Harvard and two Ann Arbor Film Festivals. Lawrence Alloway praised Joan’s film, “JigJag”, in “The Nation” and “ArtNews”, and it was mentioned again in a review of her work in “Art in America” 20 years later.