We slipped into one of the worn booths at Washington Post, with the barista/shopkeep greeting customers by name and slipping treats to any dogs that came in. I immediately asked Joanna, who is receiving her Masters of Fine Arts at SIUE, if she had designed the beautiful tattoos that were visible through her cold weather gear. She did, in fact, design much of her “promotional material”, as she calls it. Two stuck out to me. The first, an incredibly intricate design that whirled all over her arm, is based on a painting by James Jean. “He does a lot of like, kind of, not necessarily abstract, but sort of surrealist imagery. A lot of high color and things are really… it’s just like beautiful painting.” The second was the french word for ephemeral tattooed on her wrist, her “tribute so to speak” to her undergraduate degree in French.
The degree that Joanna is currently pursuing is drawing, which she tells me is relatively rare. Most art majors go for a masters in painting, an interactive degree or do something interdisciplinary. “Honestly, it’s just something that I’ve always done. It’s like that one thing that clicks.”
I have always felt at a loss when it comes to art. I know what I like and what I don’t, but that’s about as far as it goes. And create artwork? Forget about it! I’m clueless! But, Joanna explained that I may actually know more than I think. “Everybody knows something about art, because it’s essentially like communication, you know? You take what’s important to you and you choose to communicate it with whatever material.”
While in Austria, I had visited an Egon Schiele exhibit with my family without knowing much about him or his art. When I mentioned this to Joanna, she told me he was one of her favorite artists and explained that he was part of the Die Bruecke movement in German Expressionism. Die Bruecke (German for ‘The Bridge’) was about angst, while it’s counterpart Die Blaue Reiter (German for ‘The Blue Rider’) was about spirituality. When I told her how my dad had to leave the exhibit because he had such an overwhelming negative reaction, she told me the color palette and strokes in Die Bruecke can make you queasy.
Joanna studied to be a massage therapist for awhile, but it was very difficult for her because it’s more than just a physical connection that you share with someone, “it’s energetic, something that lingers.” When I asked her to elaborate she mused that artists and massage therapists are more intuitive. “It’s an inclination to be open to things… and sometimes that means being open to negative things.”
Born in Virginia, Joanna moved to St. Louis with her family when she was only three, but she has never felt like she was from here. When I asked why, she thought for a moment. “People are kind of homogenous, maybe? I don’t know. Like the Midwest, like people are really friendly, but I miss… I guess I don’t really miss because I never had too much of it, but I really always liked diversity and being around different kinds of people. And I guess that’s something that the Midwest isn’t known for.”
Would you like your muscle tissue freeze dried or frozen? For seven months Joanna worked at a company that specialized in harvesting (what a gross word to use in this context, but I’m not sure what else to use) muscle tissue and skin from donors and sending it to hospitals who ordered it. With no windows and a morgue nearby it sounds a bit creepy, but she brought up a good point. “It’s like something that you can feel good about doing, because you’re helping people get these things they need to like live or like walk.”
Despite not feeling as though she’s from St. Louis, Joanna’s favorite thing about the city is, “Probably the amount of free things we have to do here. There are a lot of really awesome free things, like all of the art museums, we have the zoo, even though I don’t go to the zoo that often.”
NOTE: I regret how my meeting with Joanna transpired. She is one of those rare individuals who is completely genuine. If she asks you a question, you can be sure it is because she wants to know. With that being said, I rambled, interrupted, and talked loudly during our entire meeting, never really getting to the heart of Joanna’s story. So, I apologize to her and to my readers.
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