March 27, 2001
by Michael Smith
JoAnn Cox has known since the age of five that she wanted to paint. Her first painting was a naked lady on an elephant.
JoAnn Lane was born in Rosedale, Mississippi on the Mississippi River. She did not grow up there, though, as her father worked with International Harvester and had to go where the cotton was. When JoAnn reached seventh grade, the Lane family settled in Indianola, Mississippi, the small town from where B. B. King hails.
After high school, JoAnn attended Moorhead Junior College where she took two years of art classes. She then went to stay with her mother's family in Fleetwood, England where she worked odd jobs and studied painting. JoAnn returned to this country to attend the University of Southern Mississippi and continue her art instruction; finding commercial art unenjoyable, she focused on painting.
JoAnn met Scott Cox, another art student, who was drafted to go to Vietnam. They soon married and their first child (of two) was born within the year. JoAnn dropped out of school to raise her children, splitting time between Indianola and Evergreen, Alabama, Scott's hometown. Because she did not have the blocks of uninterrupted time that would have been required, JoAnn could not paint, but she worked on smaller projects which included weaving, quilting, lace-making, needlework, and crochet. In her mother's English upbringing, all the girls were taught to knit at school at a young age, so JoAnn and her two sisters learned to work with their hands early in their lives.
In 1973, Scott returned from war and the Coxes moved to Mobile so that he could finish his college education. JoAnn loved Mobile immediately because "everyone was so friendly."
JoAnn began working at the Mobile Museum of History. During those eleven years, she managed public relations, worked as the textile curator, and fashioned displays. She was responsible for designing the permanent Mardi Gras exhibit we have all seen at least once. Even after she had taken a job elsewhere, she was invited to work on the Raphael Semmes Collection, recovered from the C.S.S. Alabama which had sunk off the coast of Cherbourg, France. In another job, as director of the Bragg-Mitchell House, she was responsible for maintaining the mansion, coordinating volunteers, and supervising the rental of the House for private parties.
Once the children were of school age, JoAnn found some time to paint, completing one or two canvases a year. Leila Hollowell, who had acquired the Upham Gallery, needed artwork to fill blank wall space and solicited work from JoAnn. Leila put one of JoAnn's paintings up but it soon came down to a purchaser. The painting which replaced it was sold soon, too. Before long, JoAnn's art sales matched her salary; so with Leila's encouragement and Scott's blessing, JoAnn gave up her day job and became a full-time painter.
The style in which JoAnn paints is Abstract Expressionism. This had been the focus of art instruction in 1969. This non- representational work is pure expression or emotion on the canvas and has no recognizable object in it. Some of the better known painters in this style include Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, and JoAnn's favorite, Franz Kline.
JoAnn loves to begin a new painting. "Each new canvas is a fresh start. I paint a line and the canvas evolves from there. It is a problem to be solved." JoAnn states that the style is pure design. She had an instructor who decried canvases with anything familiar in them. She names the paintings, however, because the clients need some way of identifying with the canvas. "Once a painting is done, it does not matter that people need a hook to appreciate it."
JoAnn noted that her art has changed over the years. After completing one early canvas, she whitewashed it because she thought the colors were too bold. Formerly, her work was more detailed but subtle; she focused on no more than three colors per canvas. In the past, she used more gold and silver leaf than she now does; she has abandoned using beadwork altogether. Now, she uses all colors--and many colors, too--in her palette. JoAnn has found her paintings to be more "user-friendly" with the additional colors; "it makes them more happy." She also notes that the basis for everything, though unintentional, is a landscape: "There's always a horizon in the painting."
JoAnn tries to paint every day though she does not always get the opportunity. She paints for three hours at a time, finding herself exhausted at the end of her session. When she returns to paint, her first look at the canvas creates some impression. That impression, whatever it is, directs the balance of her painting.
JoAnn also paints smaller paper pieces to add variety to her work and to allow her art to reach all markets. These works are also abstract but she has to approach them in an entirely different way because the designs that she uses on canvas will not "reduce" to the smaller size of the paper works. Working with the paper can be more frustrating, but she has found that the "problem areas" in the paper pieces are more easily reworked.
Though JoAnn never completed her art degree, she has continued her study of art. In addition to workshops in this country, she went to Paris for five weeks and Ireland for a week where she focused on her drawing, doing totally realistic works in pencil. "You have to have the basics--painting and drawing--no matter what type of art you do."
JoAnn was one of six artists from Alabama (there were six from each state) who were recently asked to make snowmen for an exhibit at the White House. Her snowman wore rubber flippers and sunglasses and carried a sand pail containing seashells. On the White House Christmas special, JoAnn's Gulf Coast snowman was specifically noted by the First Lady.
JoAnn's art has been acquired by the Museums of Art in Mobile and Huntsville, and by Auburn University and Moorhead Junior College. Her art can be viewed at Gallery 54, here in Mobile, and at the Soho Gallery in Pensacola. JoAnn's art also livens the walls of The Bakery Cafe in Mobile.
In spite of one college professor's advice to pursue something other than art, JoAnn has made a life--and a good name--for herself following her childhood dream. Never underestimate the value of a naked woman on an elephant.
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