Joella Jean Mahoney Contemporary American Painter

Joella Jean Mahoney: Reviews

Gallery Notes from the West Valley Art Museum

A Passionate Vision:
The Paintings of Joella Jean Mahoney

Once in a great while there comes along an artist who’s vision is so clear, who’s visual voice is so strong and who’s sensitivity and expression resonates with just about everyone who encounters his or her art. Joella Jean Mahoney is one of these artists.

Her vision began when she stepped off the train in 1951 in Flagstaff, Arizona and knew immediately as did Georgia O’Keefe in New Mexico, that this was to be her place.

My first encounter with Joella was in 1997 when this Museum (still the Sun Cities Museum of Art) gave her a retrospective covering 30 years of her career from 1965 to 1995. She was a mature artist then and her work only seems to have become stronger in the last 11 years.

Selecting works for this exhibit was as usual a joy for me to do. I thought that this time, however I would include more works that had the human figure as part of her inspiration. Joella knows the figure as well as she knows her beloved Arizona canyons and hills. She is able to see the figure, representing humanity as part of the larger scheme of things in life.

In the piece “Remembrance”, Mahoney depicts a figure seemingly caught in the stone and reaching out to embrace a bird. Remembrance, from the Retrospective Collection by Joella Jean MahoneyMahoney’s sensibilities extend to an awareness of the planet’s life forces. As in the Gaia theory, to her all things are connected, the earth being a total organism. The bird is part of the woman, the woman part of the bird. This theme runs through all her work and one senses that even in the paintings without figures. There, the viewer is drawn inward both to the image before them and inward on themselves.

How does she accomplish this? With an unerring eye as to how color functions emotionally and a near perfect control of dynamic form. To ensure against any kind of handedness to the composition or a specific orientation, Joella purposefully keeps re-orienting the canvas, making the composition work in all directions. You might think that this would produce a bulls-eye effect of even distribution all the way around, but it doesn’t. She knows just how throw in that extra slash or take out a busy area that keeps it interesting.

Journey Inward, from the Red Wall Series by Joella Jean MahoneyThe ten-foot wide vista of “Journey Inward” shows how simplification and abstraction lend a more powerful and meaningful experience to a recognizable scene. The minutiae are not necessary. Only the magnificence of the canyon is there. We are in the presence of an American master.

George Palovich, Curator
West Valley Art Museum
Surprise, Arizona