Studio Visit with Joshua Huyser: Finding beauty in the mundane

There’s an understated beauty to Joshua Huyser’s delicate watercolor studies of quotidian objects. Lighting, form and color are carefully weighed up and balanced, while subtle bleeds of pigment or just-off perspective lend the studies an endearing, whimsical quality. Joshua favors vintage objects like cut glass condiment vessels, spice tins, plastic thermos flasks, bottles, cassette tapes and other hand-me-down knickknacks as subject matter. There’s a strong sense of nostalgia in his work, which seems to hark back to slower times.

Living and working in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Joshua has cultivated a deep love for the great plains and farmlands that surround where he lives. Alongside his object studies he paints landscapes and rural scenes from photographs that he’s collected over the years. These paintings, beautifully detailed, evoke a similar sense of yesteryears.

What makes his work so interesting is that there’s nothing obviously interesting about the scene or object on first glance. As your eye lingers however, we start to notice the subtle details and beauty hidden in the mundane. Working out of his home studio, we caught up with Joshua to find out more about his work.

AMM: Hi Joshua! To start us off, what’s your earliest art-related memory?

JH: My earliest art-related memory is of my mom teaching me, at the age of 3, to draw a bunny. I remember being slightly disappointed because she only taught me to draw a stick bunny and I wanted it to look more like a real bunny.

AMM: Have you always painted with watercolors? What appeals to you about the medium?

JH: At about this same period of time, at age 3, that my mother bought me a set of cheap watercolors just to get me out of her hair. So, yes, I have always painted with watercolor. I’ve never actually received any formal training in watercolor. It was an individual pursuit for me from the very beginning. I used it primarily to create images of the landscape and wildlife I saw around me while growing up in Montana. Part of what immediately appealed to me about watercolor was the experience of working with the watery pigments on paper. It was just a pleasure to watch the pigments move about and soak into the paper. It was amazing. I was totally engrossed. As I’ve continued down my path, working in watercolor has become an intricate game involving the management of several different variables at any given moment and the result is always a surprise. At this point, though, painting in watercolor is so engrained in me that it is simply an extension of my person. It sort of always has been. It is just part of how I process and communicate about my experiences.

AMM: Working with watercolors requires certain technical skills. How did you learn the medium and do you any advice for novices?  

JH: Well, as I mentioned before, I am self-taught in watercolor. I am also almost entirely self-taught in drawing as well. I was just so curious about how to translate the 3 dimensional visual world into 2 dimensions on paper that I was really very personally driven to figure it out. I remember trying to workout the problem of drawing in perspective at 8 years old, trying to draw telephone poles along a road going off into the distance and making some really funny but logical mistakes. The technical aspects of working with watercolor were picked up along the way. Problems would present themselves and I would be forced to work out a solution in order to move forward. There was a lot of error. A ton of muddled messes. But this is one of the only ventures in my life that I have been inspired and curious and interested enough to continually push through the problems I faced and overcome them with a sense of anticipation. My advice to anyone interested in pursuing watercolor is to keep trying, persevere, push yourself to paint the next thing you think you might be able to accomplish. The skill and comfort will come fairly quickly if you just keep doing it regularly.

AMM: How has your style changed and developed over the years?

JH: While I have painted watercolor nearly all of my life, I simultaneously worked as a non-objective/abstract oil painter for 15 years. During those years the projects I pursued in each of these two mediums remained separate and distinct. But, shortly after the birth of my son in 2013, the ideas I had in each of those worlds went through a synthesis and a new project emerged. The results of this synthesis are these object paintings, nearly symmetrically composed, with little or no discernible context noting light, shadow, color & form. In the end the “style” is really just a by-product of the idea.

AMM: Your landscapes evoke a feeling of travel and contemplation. Do you paint from photographs or in real life?

JH: While I once painted landscapes en plein air regularly when I was younger, having a child with special needs has made that type of endeavor more difficult. My landscape paintings these days are made from photographs of places that I have been collecting for many, many years.

AMM: How does the Minnesota landscape influence your work?

JH: Great question. I first moved to the Midwest in 1989. I left the mountains and first moved to Iowa. I was not a fan of the Great Plains at first. I was horribly biased about the exceptional beauty of the mountains I had left and I was blinded by it. Slowly, though, I began to see the subtly undulating fields and hills and distant farms with their collection of various and oddly shaped out buildings and the sparse clusters of trees through different eyes. I began to see those buildings and trees as the bottles and vases in Morandi’s paintings. Thinking about the landscape in that way very much affected my ideas about composition. And that vein of thought definitely bled over into my object pieces. I love driving through the Midwest, particularly the back roads. There is so much to see. Sadly, though, this part of the country has developed a bad reputation as being boring to drive through. I couldn’t disagree more.


AMM: What’s the local art scene like where you live?

JH: The Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul) in Minnesota is a thriving art community on many levels. From the great museums to the galleries to the community based and supported arts initiatives to the festivals to the makers themselves, there is breadth, diversity and vitality here that I value.

AMM: How does your studio look and feel?

JH: Currently my studio is in my home. I am lucky to have beautiful natural light through large windows. This studio is relatively new, though, and does not yet really feel entirely like my space. I am slow to inhabit my studios for some reason. Perhaps mostly because I just want to get down to work. The outcome currently is a form of utilitarian chaos.

AMM: Besides painting what are your other interests and pursuits?

JH: Music is essential in my life. It has been influential on my work over the years and is present in my life most every day. I also try to get lost outdoors up in the north woods away from things as much as I am able. I very much enjoy kayaking in Minnesota’s many splendid lakes. And, of course, one of my main pursuits currently is raising my son. (Working sculpturally is also a lurking possibility at all times.)

AMM: What’s next for you?

JH: Currently I am working on a show coming up in November at The Soo Visual Arts Center here in Minneapolis. I am painting some large-scale watercolors for the occasion. I am actually working larger than I have ever before in this medium, so I am excited to see the show go up.

Find out more about Joshua’s work:

Text and interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.


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