Jo Hay - The Persisters

Jo Hay paints giant women who resist & persist

By Howard Karren, Provincetown Banner, October 12, 2018

Jo Hay at work in her studio before her portrait of Emma Gonzalez, part of “The Persisters” exhibit (Photo: Ron Amato)

Jo Hay at work in her studio before her portrait of Emma Gonzalez, part of “The Persisters” exhibit (Photo: Ron Amato)


Over the last few years, artist Jo Hay has been painting a series of giant oil-on-canvas portraits of women, most of them 60 by 48 inches (five by four feet) and some 84 by 72 inches (seven by six feet), which she has called “The Persisters.”

In her statement for the series, Hay explains why: “I make large-scale formal portraits in an effort to magnify and honor the endeavors and accomplishments of these female champions in the way that white men have been revered for theirs throughout the history of portraiture. Each portrait serves the purpose of keeping these women prominent and recognized, but also represents my own personal navigation through the modern political climate.”

Due to the recent Senate hearings over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hay and her wife, gallery director Carolyn Kramer, have decided to hold a new show at Jo Hay Open Studio to celebrate “The Persisters.” For this new exhibit, Hay is painting a portrait of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who bravely accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when she was 15 and he was 17. The Ford painting was not ready to be photographed at press time, but the show will also include portraits by Hay of Hillary Clinton; MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory, racial justice activists and co-chairs of the 2017 Women’s March; Emma González, the eloquent senior at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who survived the mass shooting there and became a founder of the gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD; and Cynthia Nixon, queer and progressive Democratic primary candidate for governor of New York. “The Persisters” will have an opening reception at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, and will remain on view through Oct. 22.

“What has happened to the soul of the American people,” Kramer says by email, “when a woman who has been clearly sexually assaulted can be berated and ridiculed and taunted by the Commander in Chief of our country, while thousands of Americans cheer him on, waving signs of ‘Women for Trump’? There is a poison that is infiltrating through the veins of this country, a poison so deadly that it no longer matters that a man can become a Supreme Court Justice of the United States despite credible evidence that he tried to rape a 15-year-old child. To every Senator that voted yes to put Brett Kavanaugh on the bench: fuck you all. And to every woman or man who has been sexually assaulted: we will survive this dark time. Never give up hope. Resist and Persist.” — HK

A ‘Cause’ that refreshes

By Howard Karren May 31, 2018

Carolyn Kramer Gallery founder and gallery director Carolyn Kramer answers quickly and cogently when she’s asked why she decided to assemble “Rebel with a Cause,” an exhibit of portraits by six artists that opens this Friday.

“Trump,” she says. “The catalyst was Trump winning, and then going to the Women’s March on Jan. 21. My anger, my angst about our fellow citizens started to fester around that time.”

Kramer has been an activist in many causes in her life. “I wanted to study political science but never got around to it,” she says. “Once I came out, I became active in ACT UP. Simultaneously, the Lesbian Avengers was formed. These were the girls with shaved heads on the front lines of marching. My inner circle of friends were all part of the Lesbian Avengers.”

It was rebellious, but also a family tradition. “My parents were very involved with the anti-war movement during Vietnam. I marched for abortion rights with my mom. Even to this day, I get a lot of shit for being a Jew that’s critical of Israel. All of this is like a crockpot, since Trump won.”

It’s not just about speaking out or even marching. It’s about doing something that brings about change. When Kramer worked as a rep for models, she saw the sexual abuse that was going on — she was assaulted herself and threatened by a photographer — and years before #MeToo became a cri de coeur, she fought back. Now, as a gallery director, she’s fighting back with the means that are available to her: she’s creating a show, one that will get people crying, cheering, inspired to act.

Choosing the artists was the first step. She wanted people who, like her, identified as rebels. “I didn’t pick the white entitled man or woman to paint a painting. I picked people who had a connection to discrimination in their own lives.”

The paintings she commissioned are monumental in scope, most of them five feet tall and four feet wide. They’re portraits of people — specifically, people who have sparked protest or galvanized a movement.

Jo Hay, Kramer’s life partner and the namesake of the gallery, is doing three portraits for the “Rebel” show: Linda Sarsour, Arab-American activist and co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March; Emma González, the stunningly articulate 18-year-old high-school student who survived the Parkland shooting; and “Notorious RBG,” a portrait of outspoken Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Hay, too, was deeply affected by the Women’s March.

“I want to make large paintings of women that young girls will see and say, ‘All right!’ I’ve seen paintings of old men in suits. I want to see big paintings of women doing big things,” she says.

A key piece in the show is “Unbothered, a Portrait of Tarana Burke,” the African-American woman who started #MeToo and is largely unknown. It’s a painting by Michael Elsasser, a former Catholic seminarian who left the priesthood to tend to a friend with AIDS in the ’80s. In the years since, he and his husband have pioneered adoption by gay couples. Elsasser’s current calling is to paint people with whom he makes an empathic connection, because of how they’ve suffered or found redemption. Burke was one of those people.

“Tarana supports young women and girls who have been abused and helps them try to reconnect with the joy in their life,” Elsasser says. Burke tells a story of how, because of her own experience with abuse, she was unable to tell a young girl who opened up to her “me, too,” and watched the girl clam up when confronted with another adult who was powerless to help. “Then Tarana goes on to develop #MeToo, and that’s why I wanted to paint her as a rebel hero,” Elsasser says.

That humanitarian connection makes for powerful art. O’Neil Scott did a moving portrait of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback whose kneeling protest during the national anthem has left him unemployed, because Scott, as an African-American male and a former Division I athlete, deeply understands why the sacrifice was made.

Another artist in the “Rebel” show, Cobi Moules, a trans man, documented his transition in drawings and oil self-portraits, but doesn’t consider himself political at all. “I found him online,” Kramer says. “I looked at his website, and I thought, my God, these portraits are so interesting! I wanted a painting that would represent gender equality issues.” Moules agreed to join the show, but was clear about not wanting to be labeled a rebel.

But for Kramer, labels are not the point. “For this year, I said to Jo, ‘I’ve got to up the ante.’ My mantra is art before commerce. The paintings may not sell, but the show will be important.”

Source: Provincetown Banner, May 31, 2018


Provincetown Magazine May 10, 2017
By Rebecca M. Alvin

Maddow (2017, 48” x 60”, oil on canvas) by Jo Hay

Maddow (2017, 48” x 60”, oil on canvas) by Jo Hay

It’s undeniable. There is a sense of outrage and fear, coupled with disbelief that has spread since the election of President Donald Trump, spurring ordinary citizens to become highly political in their everyday lives. It’s no wonder that artists would want to express these sentiments in their work, as often it is in times of struggle and strife that great strides are made in the arts. French Surrealism after World War I, Italian Neorealism after World War II, and now perhaps something fresh and beautiful will grow out of this time of conflict and intolerance.

Artist Jo Hay and her wife/gallery owner Carolyn Kramer have decided to make their first show of the season at Carolyn Kramer Gallery one that reflects the political climate around them. Opening this weekend, Resistance features the work of four very different artists who explore that theme in very different ways.

Hay’s work takes a decidedly optimistic tone in featuring individuals who are continuing to stand for truth, tolerance, and justice through their work in various fields, such as Sam Brinton, a nuclear engineer who is at the forefront of the fight to ban so-called “conversion therapy” programs. These large-scale portraits are usually done from life, but in the case of Rachel Maddow, featured in this show, the artist worked from a photograph to bring her subject to life.

“I’m very optimistic, and I looked for what I saw as the light —someone that I knew was clearly looking for the truth, because it’s such a dire situation,” says Hay when asked about her choice of Maddow as subject. In her artist statement, she elaborates, “I made this painting wishing to express my deep gratitude to Rachel Maddow for her tireless effort to uncover the truth with regard to the Trump administration and its ties to Russia, and to simultaneously advance the dialogue around her exceptional efforts.”

We Need a Political Revolution (2017, 36” x 24’, oil on canvas) by K.J. Shows

We Need a Political Revolution (2017, 36” x 24’, oil on canvas) by K.J. Shows

Don’t Shoot It’s Only Water No.3 (2017, 48” x 48”, oil on canvas) by O’Neil Scott

Don’t Shoot It’s Only Water No.3 (2017, 48” x 48”, oil on canvas) by O’Neil Scott

Hay’s work will be shown alongside works by Tess Barbato, KJ Shows, and O’Neil Scott, a new addition to the gallery’s roster. Scott, an artist from Philadelphia, is surprisingly self-taught, but his work is both technically accomplished and conceptually provocative. Working with the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as a general anxiety around intolerance and violence, Scott’s work includes a piece called Citizen, (which graces our cover this week), and a series called Don’t Shoot, It’s Only Water, featuring individuals with squirt guns pointed in various directions, including the one shown here with a black man holding the water gun up, evoking it’s inspiration, Trayvon Martin. Others use the theme to explore suicide and violence in other contexts. Scott, who will have a solo show at the Gallery later this year, had never been to Provincetown before Kramer asked him to be in the show after she saw Citizen on Instagram.

A Corrosion of Democracy (2017, 36” x 36”, oil on canvas) by Tess Barbato

A Corrosion of Democracy (2017, 36” x 36”, oil on canvas) by Tess Barbato

Scott sees his work a little differently. “I think it’s less political and more about these marginalized communities,” he says. “The political atmosphere is just in your face. It’s everywhere you look, and I think that’s what happens, it’s definitely showing up in my work.”

For KJ Shows, best known for her series Portrait of an Artist, in which she paints portraits of different artists’ shoes, using their actual shoes as a model, this is a chance to paint individuals who are significant to the burgeoning Resistance movement, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

“Bernie’s the one I did first,” Shows says by phone from Maine, “I was painting his face and being kind of like gentle and caring in painting his portrait, and then I got kind of mad, too, about all the stuff that’s going on, and it went from this really caring, respecting portrait that I was painting into this protest poster. I started cutting out letters and [formed them into] something he said and just spray-painted over it. I kind of did this drastic change.”

Shows says she’s been making lots of political art lately, including Donald Trump voodoo dolls, which she sells online, and, we’re told, provide great satisfaction for those frustrated by the Administration’s policies.

Since its opening in 2014, the gallery has shown Barbato’s work, which is focused on Capitalism. Barbato has long used her art to speak about injustice and the power dynamic  inherent in her images of American money. She shares one piece in this exhibition, A Corrosion of Democracy. In an e-mail interview, she explains, “This painting is a reaction to the actions and rhetoric of Mr. Trump. He has been trying to slowly break down the fundamentals of our democracy. From attacks on women, to delegitimizing the press, and undermining the once guaranteed right to freedom of religion and speech, he has made it clear that he is unfamiliar with our constitution. I wanted to use the gradual corrosion of the copper pennies as an analogy for how an unprotected democracy is subject to erosion. Our democracy will not die with a bang but with small acts of destabilization.”

There are many ways to cope with the political drama (or satire, depending on your perspective) unfolding before us. The artists in Resistance demonstrate the power of art to provoke thought, inspire, and speak out, and they do so without compromising their talents in service of a message, creating works that are beautiful, provocative, and that will remain meaningful through time.