Visual Art

While my journey as an artist began in theatre, I soon discovered visual art as well. In the early days, for me that meant a fascination with painting, especially watercolor. By the time I was in my early-twenties though, I had already developed a passion for site-sensitive artmaking. When I was invited to present an improvisational dance performance in a gallery setting for the first time, I saw the obvious connection to site work, and creating instillations with the intension of then performing in those created spaces quickly became the focus of my visual work. Eventually, I put 2D work aside altogether, and didn’t paint for nearly 15 years. That changed when I began the director of Wilson College’s interdisciplinary MFA program.

Stations of the Cross XII: Jesus Dies on the Cross. by Joshua Legg, 2023

When I started at Wilson in 2017, I felt strongly that I needed to reconnect as a maker with visual art to help balance out my work in dance, theatre, performance writing, and poetry. It seemed valuable at the time to reestablish connection with the language(s) of the visual arts to enhance the conversations I would need to have with visual arts students in the MFA Program. This work as helped meet that outcome significantly. Simultaneously, it has challenged me to explore social justice issues that have always been concerns for me in entirely new ways, and to take my work with art as social action in a new direction.  

Art As Social Action: First, returning to painting led me to a practice-led research project examining the ways in which Christianity has been misused as a front for racism in America. I selected the concept of the Stations of the Cross to create a dialogical interrogation of the killing of unarmed black men by police. As there are 14 stations, I intended to select one killing to examine per painting, for a total of 14 corresponding works. Events like the Nazi march on Charlottesville, Virginia convinced me that the series needed to be about more than the killings. Ultimately, the final works consider religious “justifications” for chattel slavery and slave trade, secession, Civil War, the rise of the Klan and white supremacy, church bombings, and the lynching of Black peoples. The works also confront acts of genocide against Indigenous peoples perpetrated by the federal government across the country where religion was weaponized in the process into the 1970s, as well as the forced sterilization of Indigenous girls at the hands of Protestant and Catholic clergy at mission schools on reservations into the 1980s and the contemporary epidemic-level disappearances of Indigenous women from reservations across the nation.

Even as I broadened the scope of the dialogue, I remained committed to the fundamental challenges that I set for the work when it commenced: a tightly limited use of white, black, copper, and crimson, and the colors I can make by blending those four still serve the project incredibly well. Similarly, my commitment to abstract expressionism, limited iconography, and restraint as an aesthetic value helped me to maintain a laser focus on the kinds of social deterioration that racism and the abuse of faith perpetuate in America. I titled the exhibition Stations of the Cross: Meditations on Racism and Religion in America.

Selected Images from Stations of the Cross: Meditations on Racism and Religion in America