Juxtapoz

Jocelyn Howard’s Puppet-Inspired Figures

November 11, 2015

Jocelyn Howard’s work includes figures that incorporate puppetry—suggesting both play and an ultimate lack of human control. Her figurative work incorporates the aesthetics of theater, her subjects straddling the line between innocent play and sexual desire. Howard is currently in a long-term artist residency at Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana.

On the motivations and themes of her work, she writes:

I earned my BFA from a conservative, Christian institution where every aspect of student life was regulated, policed, and sermonized in Sunday services and daily chapel meetings. The body, especially the female body, was seen as sexual. Because the body was sexual, it was sinful and because it was sinful, it was shameful. Female students were the agents of sexual sin and it was our duty to be vigilant and protective of our Christian brothers’ purity.

Our anatomy drawing classes, as a result, were heavily censored. The live models were always clothed in long gym shorts and a baggy T-shirt. As students, we had to develop a sort of x-ray vision, straining to see through the soft folds of fabric to the more solid forms underneath. The body was so taboo, the more it was covered and hidden, the more sexual it became and the more ashamed we felt.

Along with a network of fellow alums, I’ve spent years questioning, analyzing, and shedding those layers of repression and fear. I started learning about feminism and equality at 25. I came out as gay at 28. As I evolved and found a new sense of freedom, my work naturally evolved as well.

Sculpting the human form is an active and fierce rebellion for me. This current body of work is a reaction to the shame I was taught surrounding sexuality and gender identity. Each piece is a tangible stripping away and rejection of that shame. I use fragmented body parts often resembling dolls or puppets to emphasize play, discovery, and vulnerability. They also manifest, for me, the patchwork nature of the human experience. I distort the proportions of the body in awkward ways to expose the ungraceful imperfections of our thoughts and desires. Antique clothing, aged textures, and stained surfaces give each piece the sense of a life lived.

Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I use my art to dive into a space removed from reality. I want to emerge with a new voice and a better understanding of the world with each piece. And, I invite viewers to bring their own experiences and influences on that trip with me in hopes that they'll create a story of their own.