Joy Shannon: Artist Statement

Art is in my veins: It is my life, my purpose, my heart. Creating beautiful things to share with the world is my central passion, whether that means Celtic folk music or ritual tattoos.

I am a musician, visual artist, tattooist, and author.

I create mixed-media visual artworks with painting and printmaking methods alongside emotive musical recordings and performances with my band Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks. In 2013, I apprenticed with the tattoo/graffiti artist Mike Giant, and I now travel around the world tattooing.

The first subject matter that inspired me was the female body. I have used the feminine form as a jumping off point to express my own personal experiences as well as Western women’s historical experiences of sexual abuse and control, which were largely a result of Christianity’s repression of pagan sensuality and goddess-worship. In this vein, I often print on layers of old book paper in order to illustrate the idea of centuries of cultural history layering upon itself. I studied cultural history for my master’s degree, and many of the themes in my visual art and music come from the idea that we are a culmination of all that historically comes before us.

I am deeply inspired on an artistic level by the idea of healing generational wounds that are passed down through families in the forms of abuse and negative belief patterns. My hope is that through my various art offerings, I can be part of the healing process both for individuals and the world.

For example, I created a series of printmaking works called “The Beauty Mark,” which was accompanied by three albums of music: The Opium Wars or Love in Lieu of Laudanum (2009), The Black Madonna (2010), and Out of My Dreams and Into My Arms (2011). This series was inspired by the bodily pain, muscle memories, and body issues that sexual abuse leaves behind in the female survivor’s body. I illustrated women in various states of unrest within their bodies and ultimately reclaiming their sensuality. In pieces like “Mnemosyne,” which was both an art piece and a song, I illustrated the concept of a goddess of memory that could help an individual face traumatic memories. The individual in the piece is both being helped by this ancient pagan goddess and embodying the goddess herself. The song is like an incantation to the goddess and a plea for help through pain.

My work is inspired by the Expressionists like Kathë Kollwitz and Egon Schiele who used the exterior of the human form to express the internal emotional experience. The performative element of my work– in using my own body to create work and to perform music at my art shows– is partially inspired by the performance work of Ana Mendieta, who used her female form to represent our elemental ties to the earth itself. I have, for example, explored painting with watercolour and menstrual blood with figurative subject matters.

My current artistic focuses are primarily tattoos and music. I am an artist at Paper Crane Studio in Long Beach, where I specialize in blackwork tattoos. I also offer ritual tattoos that incorporate ancient spiritual practices and Reiki healing. With my music, I perform with my band regularly and am currently working on my next studio album.


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