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The Queue: Dirk Joseph

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: Dirk Joseph

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
Winter 2024 issue of American Craft magazine
Dirk Joseph with his painting Fractal Being, 2023, acrylic on canvas. Photo by Dirk Joseph.

Dirk Joseph with his painting Fractal Being, 2023, acrylic on canvas. Photo by Dirk Joseph.

Rear view of Feel, a 2020 crankie by Joseph, altered wooden dresser drawer, dowels, Masonite, wire, cardboard, tracing paper, 39 x 29 x 10 in. Photo by Dirk Joseph.

Rear view of Feel, a 2020 crankie by Joseph, altered wooden dresser drawer, dowels, Masonite, wire, cardboard, tracing paper, 39 x 29 x 10 in. Photo by Dirk Joseph.

 

Dirk Joseph tells stories—of inner worlds, the sacred, and the possibilities of dreams—with paint, paper, and puppets.
Baltimore-based multimedia artist and arts educator Dirk Joseph creates paintings and cast paper sculptures depicting the sacred, mystical, and natural worlds. He’s also a puppeteer and crankie artist, who founded String Theory Theater and performs with his daughters Koi and Azaria. He was introduced to crankies, a form of visual storytelling using handmade scrolls, by Valeska Populoh, a fellow Baltimorean whose mother, Ursula, also practices the art form. A storyteller and performer since childhood, he uses his performances and art practice as a means to actualize dreams and ideas. “I thought of art and play as the same thing, a ritual to indulge the imagination in crafting simulations of reality that would then resonate into reality,” Joseph says. His new puppet show Defrag, supported by a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation, premiered at Black Cherry Puppet Theater in Baltimore, a crankie epicenter, in early November. Sarah Jane Nelson wrote about Joseph and other members of the tight-knit crankie community in “Hand Turned Tales” in the Winter 2024 issue of American Craft.

dirkjart.com | @dirkjart

 

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I am primarily a painter working in acrylic on canvas and wood. I create low-relief sculptures. I also am a storyteller through puppetry, animation, and film. I have several recurring themes that I work with, including bridging ancient and modern mythic images and concepts.

Tell us about the first piece of puppetry that captivated you. What about it drew you in?
When I was around 4, I was captivated by Sesame Street and inspired to make my own sock and paper bag puppets, but it wasn’t until 2014, when I saw Baltimore artist Schroeder Cherry perform a puppet show about the Underground Railroad, that I felt inspired to create performances for audiences.

In addition to your puppetry work, you make relief sculptures using clay made from paper pulp. How did you come to this material? Why do you use it?
I stumbled upon this process while teaching myself how to make paper. I discovered how dense and strong a dried clump of pulp was. I experimented and eventually developed a process of making clay from post-consumer cardboard, and techniques for adding texture and detail.

What are your favorite tools in your tool kit, and how do you use them?
Besides my hands, my favorite physical tools are a large and old collection of paint brushes for painting stuff; utility knives for cutting cardboard; glue guns for assembling cardboard structures; and a jigsaw and drill for woodworking, creating substrates for relief sculptures, and puppet props.

Dirk Joseph and his daughter Rose performing Collab Story in 2023. Photo by Schroeder Cherry.

Dirk Joseph and his daughter Rose performing Collab Story in 2023. Photo by Schroeder Cherry.

If you could have work from any contemporary craft artist for your home, whose would it be and why?
Wangechi Mutu, a Kenyan-born American visual artist, known primarily for her painting, sculpture, film, and performance work. I particularly like her sculptures, though she also creates painting, collages, and animation. Her mythical imagery resonates with me. I doubt the pieces that I like would actually fit in my house though.

Which artists, exhibitions, or projects do you think the world should know about, and why?
Ugh, too many… Dr. Paulette Richards is a puppeteer, writer, and researcher. Her new book, Object Performance in the Black Atlantic, is a seminal work in the area of puppetry in the African diasporic community. And the Garden Art Party, an initiative in Baltimore that brings communities together in their local urban farms, to garden and break bread together, and create and enjoy art together.

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