Sequins, beads, humor and Voodoo flags: The art of Nancy Josephson

A self-taught artist, Nancy Josephson mixes “blingy” stuff together with taxidermy and human busts to make art that she says will “surprise and delight.”

“I’m very interested in using humor and blingy stuff to work with ideas that are maybe a little dark,” Josephson said.

Josephson uses a lot of humor in her work, some of it dark.

Consider: “I did my own cremation urn that says on the back of it, in Scrabble letters, does this make my ashes look big?”

That sense of humor offers a clear glimpse of the angle Josephson takes with her art.

But there is much more to her work than a funny quip on the back of a jar. Many of the pieces are indeed dark — but also spiritual in nature. Many are influenced by Haiti, one of the places she has visited for more than 20 years  as a volunteer to help but also to learn and grow as an artist.

It was there she was introduced to art that originated in Voodoo ceremonies called “drapo Vodou.”

“At a certain point, it became an art form with sequins and beads and narratives, and they’re just gorgeous, and I fell in love with them,” Josephson said.

Much of her art is “really about celebrating that connection and the work that I do down there.”

But there’s another side to Josephson’s art.

“There are two different paths. Basically, one is almost like a sorbet,” she said of the work that could be described as whimsical and humorous.

Her salt and pepper shakers are based on birds. “They’re really beautiful, they’re like Fabergé egg type of things.”

“All of the things that are more related to the animals, the taxidermy there is just beautiful and weird, a little funky … kind of fun.”

Josephson calls the really big, intense pieces “spirit heads.”

These heads are busts made in the likeness of a human, but they “have this spiritual component to it and they’re usually very intensely layered,” Josephson said.

Each one celebrates a particular spirit that speaks to her during its creation. And it is indeed a conversation, she said.

“Sometimes I kind of fight back or bite back, and then they win,” she said.

That communication continues with those who view and purchase Josephson’s work. She can usually tell who belongs with what piece of art by their reactions.

“It’s either joy or sort of a surprise and delight,” she said

For Josephson, creating art involves many emotions. At its core, she said, it’s about appreciating where she is, how she got here and looking forward to what’s to come.

“It’s everything, it’s joy and sorrow and the full array. I’ve got my family, I’ve got my health, I’ve got my family’s health,” she said. “At the end of the day, we have food on the table, and we’re happy being together.”

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