Published on August 25, 2015. Interview by 2015 Summer Intern, Aly Hancock: Josef Beery is a local artist and has exhibited with New City Arts at the WVTF and Radio IQ Studio Gallery, participated in our Haven Art Auction, and in First Fridays Exhibits. I am excited to introduce him as the next participant in our 7x7x7 Series.
Name one of your favorite Charlottesville places to take an out-of-town visitor.
I love sharing walks on the mountain trails behind our house. My wife and I are blessed to own an old farm house which backs right up to the Shenandoah National Park. This natural preserve climbs straight up to the crest of the Blue Ridge! Exploring some of the less-traveled wilderness, we discover some of the many waterfalls which fill our hollow with the sounds of their springtime roar and in the summertime offer a cool place to hide out.
Who is one living human who inspires your practice?
I have two really, in many ways I think they can be seen as a single complete ideological personality because of the way they complement each others thoughts and emotions, Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry. I highly recommend the recently published book of their letters to each other titled Distant Neighbors. They each bear witness to the essential spiritual role the natural world plays in our human existence. Snyder comes from a Buddhist/Taoist tradition while Berry celebrates a strong yet wonderfully individual American Christian set of values. Despite such different backgrounds, they find common ground as they describe the essential yet valuable role humans play in the natural world. They offer a vision of a very hopeful future in which we learn to steward and celebrate rather than exploit and degrade.
Explain your artistic work in seven words.
Struggle to capture nature’s light and line.
What role, if any, have mentors played in your artistic practice?
I am inspired by the work of so many writers as well as visual artists. I am very fortunate to be a book designer in my professional employment. A great number of the books and broadsides I design are the work of poets. I am a bit of a daydreamer and I really delight in losing myself in the wonder of their words. Visual artists, of course, always fascinate me and I spend as much time as I can in the great public museums of the cities my wife and I visit. Seeing these works with her and sharing our impressions in conversation is a fabulous way to expand my understanding of the emotional forces which drive the creativity of so many artists.
Describe your ideal environment for creative work.
The opportunity to work in a creative community is essential. I have been fortunate to be a founding member of several artistic cooperatives including the Virginia Arts of the Book Center and Ten Flavors Studios. The exchange and interplay I have with other artists helps me to demand more of my work, it keeps me from accepting what are the easiest and the most obvious visual solutions. Complementing this creative time are the daily routines which refresh me while reminding me to be thankful for the essential gifts of life. Walking, working in the garden, playing with children, swimming, and relaxing with books are essential to every day. But best of all is the time I spend cooking, eating and talking with my partner Gay.
How has your practice changed over time?
Most recently I have become obsessed with the richness of the mountain forests we live alongside. The number and diversity of living things here is extraordinary! We share this habitat with over 10,000 species. [Yes, ten thousand!] This is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. I delight in learning more about them and have found that the concentration I experience in drawing these discoveries is akin to a spiritual meditation. I want to share the natural beauty I see in the plants of our area through drawings and woodcuts which I print and distribute to others through the community-supported subscription project I call, Flora Appalachee.
What would you like to see more of in Charlottesville to support artists in our community?
Continued increasing respect for the value and challenge of artistic endeavor.
Josef Beery is a book designer and artist living in Free Union, Virginia with his wife Gay. He is a co-founder of the Virginia Arts of the Book Center and frequently teaches the history and technology of the book and printing to undergraduates in local colleges. He has been a woodcut printmaker for over a decade and shares his work throughout the print subscription project, Flora Appalachee. You can learn more about him and his work at josefbeery.com, leapingletterpress.com, etsy.com/shop/FloraAppalachee or by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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