Multi-disciplinary assemblage artist Joseph Malson, the current On::View Resident at Sulfur Studios, spent his formative years exploring vintage clothes, makeup, and shoplifting in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
“People didn’t pay attention to the 14-year-old boy stealing makeup,” he quipped during this week’s episode of Art on the Air.
It’s funny and charming coming from Malson, a Georgia native who relocated to the Midwest when he was 11. But the reality of his upbringing was much less amusing.
“I came out at a really early age in a really small, conservative city,” he recalled. “I was tormented in school for being gay when I was 13 years old. I pretty much dropped out because I couldn’t handle going with everyday experiences like that.”
He eventually earned his GED and spent some time in management, carving out a relatively successful and, as he described it, “unhappy life.”
But art was in his blood.
“I didn’t go back to get my art degree until I was 35.” Malson said. He graduated from MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) in Baltimore a little over three years ago.
“My mom, who was a very talented artist, had to quit school when she was a teenager and take care of her mom, and then got married and had six kids. She told me when she was close to 70 her biggest regret in life was never going to art school. And I thought, I do not want to have that regret when I’m 70.”
Now in Savannah, Malson has continued to explore the intersection of sculpture and fiber art, in a style that was once described to him by a viewer as “disrupting the repeat patterns of heteronormativity,” a weighty statement that Malson has embraced.
“I typically don’t follow rules as to what kind of fabric I should use, or what colors go together,” he said. “Unless I’m trying to make a specific point and can find maybe a historic quilt block that I think represents something. But I usually am disrupting it somehow or changing it to fit a story that I want to tell.”
With his residency project, titled “Piecing Starland (Queer)” he’s pushing himself artistically.
He’s currently working on a piece that is 17-feet long and rife with the type of stories that Malson speaks of, both in terms of the queer community and on a highly personal level.
“Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and who we are and how that’s connected to family and genetics, and wondering if we can ever escape,” he related. “I think everything I make is a self-portrait, even though that is not my intention. I’ll step away from a piece after it’s done and think ‘my psyche is all over this.’ I think my point of view is woven into everything I make.”
The work is fun and colorful but also challenging once you try to delve into the deeper levels of what Malson is doing. Perhaps it’s best described as “coy piece work,” a phrase that a former professor used to categorize what the artist is doing that is, itself, as enigmatic as the assemblages.
Listen to the full interview with Joseph Malson embedded here. Malson’s “Piecing Starland (Queer)” project will be on display as part of First Fridays in Starland 6-9 p.m. Sept. 6.
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. Next week’s guest on the show will be Jorge Montero.
Field Note: Also, Listen to Laura Till Barton and Marcee Musgrove talk about their exhibition “A Walk in the Garden” at the Savannah Jewish Educational Alliance Community Center.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show "Art on the Air."
Rob Hessler is an artist, co-host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.