DORA: Artist Conversations with Joy Bertinuson

This is the latest in a series of interviews with local female artists, as a complement to our current production of ADORATION OF DORA. This week, we are highlighting local artist Joy Bertinuson. Joy has a BA in Studio Art from Sac State, and also attended The School of the Art Institute in Chicago after getting her bachelor of arts degree. A teacher as well as an artist, she has worked with the developmentally disabled and incarcerated youth offenders, and earned an MFA from Claremont Graduate University.  She continues to teach at American River College and Sac State.

Joy describes her work: “The themes that I am drawn to are absence (violence, death, post or pre apocalyptic events), humor (absurdity), domesticity (occasionally idyllic; a place to explore sexuality and creativity, and also a place of violence and loss), as well as artist related themes (mentorship, appropriation, the gallery scene). Through images of objects, and of figures, these themes are more or less revealed within the narratives presented in my work. In terms of subject matter, I think of my images as a sort of history painting, in a way, albeit a personal history.”


  1. What type of art do you create? What themes does your work usually touch on?

I consider myself a narrative artist who draws upon personal experience, along with invention, to create works that are at times humorous, absurd, and dark. With a love of art history, I often reference, or appropriate, the images I’ve absorbed through the many years of looking, and lecturing to college students.  I’m restless in the studio and as such I’ve worked in oil and acrylic paint, as well as with pyrography (woodburning), and have ventured into assemblage. I’m currently developing a body of drawings in China marker, and paintings in encaustic, in which I consider boxing as a metaphor for painting.

  1. What has your artistic journey been like up to this point? What has been your proudest achievement? What has been your biggest challenge?

Surprising! I was not a good high school student, and when I started enrolling in classes in community college I didn’t have the skills, or motivation, to complete those courses.  The first two or three semesters I was on academic probation. It wasn’t until a summer oil painting class, taken on a whim, that art chose me. From then on, when asked how I would support myself I declared I would be an art teacher without really knowing if I would, or could, teach. Somehow I’ve managed to keep at it; earning a B.A. degree, and eventually an M.F.A, and teaching in a variety of settings, as well as creating and exhibiting work.  In regards to challenges, I find that I have trouble saying “no” when it comes to being asked to volunteer time, and many of my female artist friends suffer the same dilemma. There’s an inherent need to please, and to be helpful, sometimes at one’s own expense, accompanied by a fear of being left out of opportunities in the future if you refuse requests.  Many of the male artists I know seem to not have this issue, and are quite well respected even if they have a reputation of being a curmudgeon!

The Lovers by Joy Bertinuson

The Lovers by Joy Bertinuson

  1. In Adoration of Dora, the role of Dora Maar is actually played by two actresses. One is Dora, the ego, consumed by the need to be seen and adored. The other is Maar, the id, who acts as Dora’s inner voice and inner critic pushing her to create her own work despite Picasso’s involvement in her life. How does your inner voice/inner critic articulate itself while you are working? Is it a positive or negative influence?

The act of being engaged and making stuff is often an effective way of silencing the critic. Not that there aren’t days that you just feel like throwing in the towel, so to speak. There are plenty of moments that you doubt your capabilities or vision or whatever it is that drives us, but to not be working at it is worse.  There’s a certain satisfaction in the effort….because all is not lost and you feel that there is still a chance at success if you are in the studio. When I get pulled away by life for too long, that’s when I start calling myself a hack.

  1. How has being a woman altered your perspective on being an artist? Are there difficulties you have faced as an artist solely because of your gender? 

For some reason, as a young person, it didn’t occur to me that I might be limited by gender, or that others might consider my gender a limitation. I was always so much in my own head that I was pretty naïve about the world. Life experience has shown me there are still people in the world who view women as inferior, and this may never change, but I don’t think young men in this country hold that position in the way that perhaps their grandfathers, or great-grandfathers might have when gender roles were much different. It’s not been in my nature to let a man keep me down, or anyone for that matter. And, to be fair, artists in general, regardless of gender, must suffer a lot of humiliation, as much as any musician, poet, or actor, I suspect.

  1. Have you ever sat or been depicted by another artist? If so, what was that experience like?

Funny you should ask. Recently I was photographed by Kurt Fishback who is documenting women artists in their studios.  He is working on a long-term project, in part to make up for the fact that he spent the early part of his career primarily documenting male artists. As much as I wanted to participate, I had a lot of anxiety during the process, however he was easy to work with. I like that he made my studio look like a magical place when it’s really dark and dank like a dungeon!

Check out Joy’s work here! And don’t forget to purchase your tickets for ADORATION OF DORA!


~ by KOLT Run Creations on October 29, 2015.

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