You don’t need an aerial perspective to see the greenery in the world of Joy Kreves. The multimedia artist returns from walks with handfuls of lichen, branches, and moss, repurposing these into sculpture, installations, and mixed media works. She harvests moss from her shady backyard, and in her studio she paints the moss and lichen to look even greener. Shelved bins of moss and other natural elements are carefully organized for upcoming installations and projects. Knitted pieces and green mesh bags that hold avocados together on their way home from the grocery store also find their way into her artwork.
Joy Kreves’ moss art and gilded bee works can be seen in “Homage and Requiem” on view at A Space On Main art gallery, 61 North Main Street, Cranbury, Friday, April 3, to Sunday, April 26, with an opening reception Saturday, April 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. In May Kreves will exhibit “Craving Nature” at the Tulpehaking Nature Center, Abbott Marshlands, Hamilton.
Mixed media, painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, installations with poetry — Kreves, who is a classically trained violinist, combines them all. She even makes moss jewelry.
A teacher at the Bucks County Audubon Society who has been in many exhibits at D&R Greenway’s Johnson Education Center, Kreves is concerned about changes in the natural order. On Facebook she advocates planting milkweed to help save Monarch butterflies. She worries about “large populations of pollinating insects dying as a result of human indifference.” In her artwork “I honor them by adorning them in solemn, precious gold. Moss covers the earth’s surface with a soothing coat of protection that birds like to harvest for cushioning their nests. These natural things are beautiful and functional, but also necessary.”
In her home on a lush green street in Ewing, with a verdant backyard, Kreves serves pea soup and kale salad to a guest. Her home is a cozy den of antiques, largely inherited from her husband’s parents. “I always wanted modern but have grown to love the antiques,” says Kreves. There’s a dressmaker’s form and also the grand piano that husband Jonathan Yavelow plays, with artwork by daughter Ivia resting atop — a book of handmade paper with a little wire chair. Alongside the piano are Kreves’ violins — she played in New York galleries when she lived there after earning an MFA from Illinois State University.
There is art and sculpture everywhere — Kreves’ own work, going back to early acrylic paintings such as a self-portrait with her sister, dressed for Halloween with gold brocade Chinese dress; work she has traded other artists for; works from the gallery she ran (Joy Kreves Fine Art in Frenchtown operated from 1982 to 1990, exhibiting contemporary art by living artists from the New Jersey-Pennsylvania area); and artwork by Ivia, who recently graduated from Bard College and works as an intern at the J. Seward Johnson Foundation.
The dining room of the home the family has lived in since 1992, the year Ivia was born, has become Ivia’s studio. Ivia has been interested in making art since childhood, playing with her mother’s art materials and accompanying her mother to art receptions. “She never wanted to go to science camp,” says Kreves, whose husband is a cell biologist on the faculty at Rider University — he is the author of “Star Gazing to Sustainability: Appreciating the Scientific Process” (printed by Kendall Hunt in 2013).
Kreves marvels at how Ivia makes artwork similar to what she created at Ivia’s age, even though Ivia has never seen it, particularly a series of spiral drawings.
She sets the table with beautifully irregular blue bowls — Kreves is a ceramicist, as well as mixed media artist. After studying ceramics in college, she returned to the medium when in need of a set of plates. “Although I never made the set, it got me back into clay,” she says.
For “Homage and Requiem” Kreves collected honeybees that had come to a natural death and painted them gold, inspired by the Egyptian practice of gilding special objects. The process involved a lot of experimentation — spray paint would blow away the delicate corpses. In other attempts, the bees stuck together.
She uses bubble wrap to create the honeycomb — each gilded bee is encapsulated in a cell of the bubble wrap. Ceramic coins have bees drawn within them, and a CD is folded to look like wings. There is a poem that is part of the work in which Kreves has written about feeling a relationship to the bees.
“The homage part is about appreciating moss and lichens. It is such an amazing material, filtering impurities. It is a comforting material, and there are so many kinds, from cushion moss to mood moss.” In fact there are more than 15,000 kinds of moss. Kreves cautions that moss should never be harvested from parks or other public lands — there are online sources for moss.
“Craving Nature” is a collection of curiosities, says Kreves. It includes cloches, or bell jars, containing what look to be scientific displays from Victorian times. It is on a table made of lichen-covered birch. A book of handmade paper with ceramic and bark opens like an accordion.
The Big Table is set for seven, with placemats made from moss. Earthy ceramic plates are flanked by knives, forks, and spoons with handles encrusted in lichen. The cuisine varies from ceramic spaghetti to turtles, stones, a butterfly, and more varieties of moss.
The Children’s Table, set on a large mushroom with little cups and utensils and a vase with a nosegay, was created in memory of growing up, going into the woods and picking strawberries with her sister and friends. “I remember sitting on a stump to eat a wild strawberry.” Kreves grew up in Illinois, the daughter of a schoolteacher and Unitarian minister.
A “Menu of Awareness” includes short poems about deer, eating strawberries, and sharing experiences in nature with the viewer. “Sometimes the poem comes first, sometimes after, and sometimes they develop together,” says Kreves. In this case the “Menu of Awareness” developed parallel to the objects.
Magic happens in the creative process. Kreves does not begin her projects with a sketch. “Often the inspiration for a particular image is a mystery to me, but sometimes it reveals itself while working on the piece, or even after the piece is completed,” she says. “Sometimes I begin with an inspiration following from a continuing thread of work, a personal experience, or often from something I’ve read like a poem or a news item. I am also very inspired by textures and materials. Art just takes you where it wants you to go.”
Those who have not seen her enormous installation, “Solastalgia,” since it was exhibited at the Rider University Art Gallery in 2010, will be delighted to see it again in “Craving Nature.” Solastalgia is “the melancholia or homesickness you have when you remain locked in your home environment while all around you, your home environment is being desolated in ways that you cannot control,” wrote Kreves for the catalog from the Rider show. “Solastalgia” includes a hand-knit waterfall and river tiles made of porcelain mounted on birch panels and painted with watercolor. “I wanted to make it like you were walking along, and there’d be interruptions,” she says.
Having recently returned from a walk with Ivia in Washington Crossing Park, not far from her home, Kreves reflects on the day. “The sun was out, the temperature was perfect, the birds were singing, and no one was around. We got a waft of honeysuckle that stopped us in our tracks and we stood in amazement at the gift that it was.”
It got her to thinking about nature deficit, to which she is not immune, spending long hours in her studio. “Looking at the trees, I realized that beyond maple and oak, I’m uneducated about the trees — and this is my earth, my environment. I don’t know anything about it, and so many people know less than I do. It’s appalling — these things are connected to our survival. ‘Craving Nature’ is about sharing those important experiences with others. When you go out for a walk, it’s building who you are. Humans have an emotional connection to the earth, and if the earth is not healthy then we’re not healthy.”
The artworks in “Homage & Requiem” are not intended to present illusions of beauty, truth or reality, says Kreves. “Rather, they were created in an attempt at getting closer to honesty. By using the actual textures of things from our environment I hope to guide the viewer’s awareness to the beauty of interconnectedness.”
Homage and Requiem, A Space On Main, 61 North Main Street, Cranbury. Friday, April 3 to Sunday, April 26, Fridays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., opening reception Saturday, April 4, 6 to 8 p.m. www.aspaceonmain.com or 609-510-8305.
Joy Kreves Exhibition, Tulpehaking Nature Center, 157 Westcott Avenue, Hamilton. Friday, May 15, through Sunday, September 13, artist talk on Sunday, June 7, at 2 p.m., hours Sundays, noon to 4 p.m., Mondays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. 609-303-0704.