About Joan Cox

I use narrative, historical art references, fantastical elements of costumes and autobiography to depict taboo intimacies between women—acknowledging and emphasizing the female gaze. My work consists of large paintings, photographs and monotypes created over the past two years. I construct intimate moments in my photographs and create narrative portraits of lesbian relationships.

My work opens up a dialogue about the increasingly open presence of lesbian couples in contemporary society and the lack of their presence in the history of Western art.

I am a Baltimore native and although I left town for a few years to have adventures in New Orleans and Alexandria, Virginia, I have been back in Baltimore since 2011. I am a painter, photographer, graphic designer and writer. I earned my MFA from Massachusetts College of Art's low-residency MFA program at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

I received a BFA in Painting from Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland in 1991. I have created many different bodies of work, exploring new mediums and exhibiting steadily. I began as a watercolor-based figurative painter, experimented with digital media and collage-based paintings and then transitioned into large oil and acrylic paintings. My consistent subject is the figure, both actual and implied.

You can email me at joan@joancoxart.com

I create paintings and images that I wish I could have seen growing up; realities that echo my own and let me know that I am not only valid but also not wicked or simply confused for being myself - a lesbian.

From the moment I paint a figure on a canvas, I enter into a complex dialogue with the long history of figurative painting utilizing the male gaze that fills museums, galleries and our visual memories. My work fits into this context of identity politics, with equal parts feminist agenda and lesbian narrative and taking the route of translating my own autobiography into a sort of composed fiction. These lush narrative essays present the viewer with richly symbolic images of intimate relationships between two women, acknowledging and emphasizing the female gaze. I draw on my own life with my partner of eleven years as well as the intimate lives of lesbian couples in my community to build visual narratives that champion our undeniably intense, complex, celebratory and (still) taboo relationships.

I take photographic portraits of couples, often in a constructed pose that I have mined from an existing painting or photograph. With this process, I enter into dialogue with artists who have come before me by appropriating compositional elements of their works. The chosen historical works often depict male/female couples who are then replaced with two women, although some of the women are very androgynous looking. Blurring the lines between female and male identities makes gender distinctions more ambiguous and challenges viewers’ expectations.

Through borrowing and building upon powerful, recognizable iconography, my work alters the narrative and subverts the erotic moments between the figures. In “Our Dream,” I paint two women reclining together as in Courbet’s “The Sleepers” but my women are not sleepily on display for the male-viewer, they are consumed with one another. I added the shape of the vase from the Courbet painting into a composition that otherwise resembles Rousseau’s The Dream in which a single nude female reclines on a sofa in the heart of an imaginary jungle. I paint the dream-like lush jungle for the couple in the painting to inhabit together. In “Origin of the Family,” I present an intimate bedroom scene — a double portrait of a lesbian couple. An androgynous figure, fully clothed in her signature plaid shirt and her lover, fully nude and pregnant, both look straight out of the canvas, owning their own intimate space and relationship proudly and contentedly.

Because the lesbian perspective has been denied so long in painting, I have been looking at ways in which African American painters work to present their Otherness. Figurative artists such as Barkley Hendricks, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas make socially relevant paintings through the complex investigation of cultural norms, racial and sexual identity and body politics. Similarly, I strive to validate the presence of dynamic, complex, sensual, sexual and loving relationships between women—making them less taboo.