Artist of the Week: Jocelyn Auld ʼ23 on Finding Beauty in the Details

Howard Wang // The Phoenix

Jocelyn Auld ʼ23 sees extraordinary beauty in the everyday and mundane. Midway through our interview in the Kohlberg courtyard, she paused to describe the wonder she saw in her line of vision. 

“Right now I’m looking through the windows of Kohlberg to the shapes made by the sides being formed with the pillars, how the light is reflecting off that white tarp, and what it looks like with the cooler blue shadowed part, and the kind of warmer brighter white part with the sunlight. And there’s an angle mimicked in the light shining into the courtyard. That’s just a weird little architectural snapshot on campus. But I feel like that’s beautiful. I want to go through my life seeing things like that as beautiful,” she said. 

Jocelyn is a senior at Swarthmore, majoring in Studio Art and Classical Studies in the honors program. As early as her freshman fall, after taking an impactful first-year seminar in drawing, Jocelyn knew she would pursue art at Swarthmore. Reflecting on the drawing course that directed her art career, Jocelyn recalled drawing from observation and exercise work. As she progressed in the curriculum and gained more artistic freedom, she discovered her style in creating abstract, emotionally evocative pieces. 

    During Jocelyn’s time abroad in Rome, she expanded her architectural knowledge and worked towards her classical studies major. She painted on her own but focused on her love for ancient history and archaeology; her classes often visited the same archaeological sites they were studying. While Jocelyn takes inspiration from classical and ancient art, it’s not her only focus: she also concentrates on abstract painting. In fact, Jocelyn has experienced a process of transitioning from making specific representational images to abstractions.

“It was really hard to break away from doing objective or representational work. Over the summer, I was with [Swarthmore Professor] Randall Exon in Ireland, doing a painting program there that a lot of art majors [at Swat] do. I started doing abstract work, but it was very geometric. So I felt like I really needed to achieve some structure in my painting. Now I’m kind of trying to break away from the geometric and do more atmospheric, abstract work, but still have that sense like clear composition and structure. I like to paint things that … evoke emotion or memory or some sort of experience for other people when they look at them. So that’s kind of what I’m trying to achieve this semester.” 

Taking inspiration from abstract artists Frank Bowling and Helen Frankenthaler, Jocelyn explains that her current conceptual focuses are atmosphere, color, and structure. 

“Even though there’s no object or thing necessarily depicted in the painting, in a representational manner, I’m trying to give the painting some sense of maybe space or light or form, even though it is abstract. And then doing so with the color in the atmosphere, and the materiality of the paint … Trying to, like, have fun and be a little bold, but also be sensitive to the painting and react to the painting as I’m making it.”

When asked if she tries to evoke any specific emotions, Jocelyn replied:

“I think it really depends on the painting, like the long one that I just showed you that has like all the blue and yellow and like the cadmium red, I was just really having a good time … I was like listening to this one Jimi Hendrix song, ‘If 6 was 9,’ and I was jamming out … But there’s also paintings I’ve done recently, where I’ve been thinking about things like, strange dreams I have had. My dreams play a large part in my inspiration for things because I have very vivid and strange dreams.”

Jocelyn journals her dreams, and the associated sense of hiddenness, discovery, and beauty that can exist in this dreamscape are all present in her art. While Jocelyn captures the intangibility of a dream and the ineffable joy of a spectacular song in her visual art, she also creates physical structures with her pottery work, which she is resuming after a brief hiatus during her time abroad. She’s working on creating a dialogue between her pottery and painting that people viewing her art without context could notice.

“Now that I’ve started to get some sort of technical control, I want to start experimenting with some more complex forms, and I really want to tie it into my painting, particularly through the surface. We did a wood kiln firing [at] the Wallingford Art Center, which is just a walk through the woods from Swarthmore, and they have this giant wood kiln … The surfaces and the textures, and everything we got from the wood kiln was just incredible, and they reminded me so much of abstract painting. I really want to kind of try to start the semester connecting my painting and my ceramics together. Even though they are very different media, the forms, and the surfaces, and the textures, and the materiality kind of relate to each other and talk to each other, and you can see similar motifs happening in both works.”

Between teaching pottery, painting, and classical studies courses, Jocelyn makes time for Kitao, Swarthmore’s student-run art gallery. She’s been helping out since her first year, and now as a senior, she’s organizing workshops. She hopes to make art more accessible to those who get lotteried out of art classes or don’t have time to take full credits of art but would appreciate a creative outlet. She’s also hopeful about organizing student models for figure painting workshops, as well as other initiatives promoting accessibility in Swarthmore’s art scene.

“I just want to get more artistic workshop opportunities going for people. I also really want to get Kitao oil paints because they’re so expensive, and I know so many people don’t have access to them. And like, if you’re not in an art class, you don’t have any way to access them on campus.”

Through her love for life and all of its details, Jocelyn shares not only her art but also the delight of its creation.  

“Everything in life is an inspiration for me. I just really think that there is a lot of beauty in the world and I just want to capture that kind of feeling when I paint and when I make art.”

When Jocelyn stood up, her wrist chimed as different pendants on her bracelet collided. She walked towards Parrish, and it’s only safe to assume that her keen eyes were taking in the early evening light, watching it bounce from a stone building to a shady tree, imagining it all translated onto the canvas. 

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